Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Movie Review - The Falls: Testament of Love

Writer-director Jon Garcia's fast follow-up to The Falls (2012) opens with narration that basically describes one man having sex with another. It's not lewd. It's mostly poetic and allusions, but it is a passage all about the romance and intimacy between the narrator RJ Smith, played by Nick Ferrucci, and his love interest Chris Merrill, played by Ben Farmer. It's the perfect prelude to a movie that is way more sexual than its predecessor. The Falls had some suggestive moments, but it was no where near as graphic in its depiction of sexual activity than The Falls: Testament of Love.

While some of the nudity, especially the early nudity, might be gratuitous, I will make an argument for all the increased sexuality that does go beyond the mere prurient interest. The movie centers more on Chris Merrill who is first and foremost a Mormon, well-mannered, polite and very religious. He's also married with a 3-year-old daughter. His problem is that five years ago Chris had an affair with fellow Mormon missionary RJ Smith. Chris runs into RJ at the funeral of a mutual friend, and this reignites Chris' suppressed homosexuality.

Now, I've always been of the opinion that if you're doing a movie about food, you show food. If you're doing a movie about sexuality, you show sexuality. The exploration of Chris' sexuality is the key here. If the case to be made is that Chris is gay, then showing it rather than just telling it is more powerful, especially the striking contrast of Chris' difficulty when performing with his wife as opposed to the ease with which he performs with his male lover.

Some might criticize, and I might be included, that the sex scene between Chris and RJ is too long. Given the controversy but still critical-acclaim for Blue is the Warmest Color, lengthy, gay-sex scenes might just turn out to be the thing this year. Yet, the sex scene in its fevered release of passion and adulterous yet liberating contrasts is striking, particularly as it gives Garcia something different to do than what he did in the first and what he does for the majority of this movie, which is simply, steadily and unobtrusively observing his actors.

In that regard, Garcia shines as he provides a great vehicle to showcase his two lead actors who are both very talented young men. Farmer carries a lot of the weight in this movie. Ferrucci's character goes through a very significant arc, but the story is more balanced toward Farmer. For example, Farmer has some wordy monologues that he has to deliver that Ferrucci does not.

Farmer nails each and every one of those monologues, but, at the same time, Farmer is perhaps given too much to say. Ferrucci is mostly silent, but he is still able to convey so much without saying that much. In a scene outside a hotel room, Ferrucci's reaction to a handshake and his reaction to a door being closed on him brilliantly convey such frustration and embarrassment that if he had said anything, it only would have ruined the moment. Given that it was an improvised action on his part, he proves what great instincts he has as an actor to show us something rather than tell us something.

I believe Farmer is capable of conveying much without needing to say much too, but Garcia saddles him with one too many monologues that it starts to drag the movie. Farmer's character Chris tells RJ what happened that led him to end the affair and move into marriage, essentially going back into the closet. To me, the emotions and sentiments he verbalized are emotions and sentiments one could have gleaned from Farmer's reaction when he was alone in his hotel room following the funeral. Chris doesn't say anything. He doesn't make a single sound, but, through the look on his face and by the sheer way he quietly lays down on a bed conveys an entire monologue of emotions, so when Chris gives that speech to RJ later, it is almost redundant.

All of the actors handle the awkward and silent moments very well. The supporting cast, which includes Thomas Stroppel who plays RJ's boyfriend Paul, Hannah Barefoot who plays Chris' wife Emily and Bruce Jennings who plays Chris' father Noah, all do a good job of silently swelling to sadness, as each one faces the fact that what they thought they knew is no more.

That being said, I was rather disappointed by the ending. It tries to be similar to the first, which is rather open-ended yet hopeful, but there's no need. The only reason to do the ending this way would be to parallel the first, which Garcia consistently does in other ways. One of the best scenes in the first is when Ferrucci has to sit in a chair look directly into camera and have his character face the music. Here, Garcia has Farmer do the same, but with different results. There are other parallels or hat-tips to the first.

But, the ending here shouldn't be analogous to the first. Given the growth of both characters in this movie and the advancement, Garcia should have forwarded the chess pieces in a more definitive way and not leave them in the same places as the last film. They're in their separate lives with perhaps the possibility they might hook up, but that's exactly the positions they had at the end of the first movie. It would have been better to make a choice, either they stay apart forever or they get together finally. Don't take us on a roundabout and leave us exactly where we started.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains nudity and sexual content.
Running Time: 2 hrs.

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