I just watched a Netflix rental called The Falls - Testament of Love (2013). It’s the sequel to The Falls (2012). As if the original was not pushing the limits of endurance.
The only reason I can think of to watch this painfully amateurish attempt at movie-making is to work yourself into a frenzy of anger and resentment at the Mormon Church for brainwashing its adherents into psychologically abusing their children beyond endurance. I know Mormonism shares with Protestant fundamentalism and curia-centered Catholicism the dubious distinction of being home to the mental illness that is homophobia. But I also know that evangelicals are falling away from their practice of demonizing gay people, and most Catholics have long since left their medieval clergy behind in this regard. But I know less about what’s going on in the Mormon Church. I suspect this movie is an indication that they too are moving - painfully slowly, but they’re moving - in the direction of understanding that being gay is a sexual orientation, and not the work of the Devil. But oh, what a bumpy ride.
I say “this movie” but I’m reviewing the two together. Neither one of them strikes me as worthy of a review. While everything within me wants to support any and all attempts at fighting homophobia, I can’t get past the idea that some things can be done so badly that they almost work against such a goal. First off, movies with a message seldom make good art, but if deftly handled, they can. This pair of films - “The Falls” and its sequel “The Falls - Testament yada yada” misses by a mile.
Almost nothing is done right. It’s way too long and you’ll want a medal for not pushing the fast forward button on your video player every few minutes. The characters are shallow, the dialogue seems designed to make you want to run rather than spend five minutes in a room with any of these dullards, the editing is non-existent, and even simple things are overlooked - at one point somebody puts food on the table, but the plates are set down out of sight at the bottom of the screen. You sit there and instead of listening to the dialogue, you wonder if there is something wrong with the food.
It would be hard to find more shallow people. Robots with canned facial expressions going through the motions of playing father, mother, brother, wife and prodigal son. You imagine decent real people in there somewhere, and hope they will somehow clue in before the film runs out. No such luck.
In Part One the two protagonists meet as Mormon missionaries assigned together, and fall in love. Enter Sturm und Drang and soul-searching and agonizing and lots of references to the will of Our Heavenly Father. RJ eventually accepts, kind of, that he’s gay (he hangs onto his Mormon underwear, however). Chris gets drawn back into the church, marries and has a child. But not until they run off together and have what they report as a hell of a good time.
Part Two begins when Chris and RJ get back together after five years. One never knows what’s going on in their heads. No show about Chris' reconversion, only tell. They come to the funeral of a guy who taught them to smoke pot. You’d expect some indication they recognized the part he played in their growth. The dialogue? “He was a great guy.” “Yeah, really was.” Chris and RJ display hostility one moment, maudlin surrender to passion the next. It would help if there was chemistry between the two.
At the same time the story development is totally predictable. Not because the characters develop in a predictable way - their motivation seems to turn on a dime and it’s impossible to figure why they reach the conclusions they reach. There is total, painfully dragged-out predictability in their confrontations with hostile parents, and the noble I-gotta-be-me speeches followed by more churning. In the end, you simply feel sorry for everybody. Makes you wish there was a button you could push and make Mormonism (and possibly this film) go poof. Which is ironic, since it is evident the filmmaker was attempting to portray the religion sympathetically. It just didn’t work.
There are moments when you realize the actors are not the problem. Given a better script and better direction, they might carry the story. If they could somehow give each other a reason for being drawn to one another. And if there were some real character development, as opposed to just one more cliche-ridden treatment of how one must struggle to rid oneself of a soul killer of a religious upbringing. And if you cut away the empty silences, and the “Are you OK - Yeah, I’m fine”s that lead us nowhere.
At one point Chris’s mother tells him, “If God won’t love you, I will.” Thanks, ma.