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Party boy meets Mormon missionary. What happens next overwhelms them both.
By Kevin Thomas, Times Staff Writer
C. Jay Cox's "Latter Days" is a love story involving two people from such radically different worlds that it is inevitable their lives will be turned upside-down, never to be the same. Yet Cox expresses a profound belief in the transforming power of love, no matter what the circumstances or the cost.
An assured first feature, "Latter Days" is already a controversial work even though it extols spirituality, charity and forgiveness. Not only is Cox an exceptional screenwriter but also an astute director, and his big-screen newcomers, Steve Sandvoss and Wes Ramsey, make impressions as strong as those of Jacqueline Bisset and Mary Kay Place.
One day a group of young men moves into a cottage in the court, and soon Christian is betting his co-workers that he will seduce Aaron (Sandvoss), one of his new neighbors. The confident Christian regards the fact that Aaron is a Mormon missionary as an amusing challenge.
In initial exchanges, Christian and Aaron, a classically wholesome boy next door, find that they both love movies — nothing surprisingly edgy. After Christian makes his move, Aaron is forced to admit he is secretly gay — but that does not mean he will just fall into Christian's arms.
Neither young man is at all prepared for the impact they have on each other. Christian may have confronted Aaron with his true sexual orientation, but Aaron in turn brings Christian face to face with the shallowness of his existence and the meaninglessness of the frequent sex that Christian treats as casually as a handshake. Still, the attraction between the two is mutual, triggering passion and emotion that will be increasingly hard to deny but — because of the Mormon view of homosexuality — could spell disaster.
Depicting Mormon doctrine and practice as ignorant and destructive, Cox suggests that Aaron's deep spirituality and his sexual orientation need not be in conflict, while allowing Christian to discover a capacity for inner growth that it never occurred to him he possessed, let alone could nurture. Yet for the two to openly express their love could be dangerous. Cox, a gay ex-Mormon, must be credited with a compassion and detachment that not all filmmakers would be capable of mustering, yet his mature vision gives dimension to Aaron's parents. They are deeply religious, and his mother (Place, in one of her finest portrayals, which is saying a lot) finds herself incapable of forgiveness, while his father (Jim Ortlieb) is paralyzed with shame.
These two may judge severely, but Cox does not in turn judge them, understanding the power of revelation. There's more authenticity in the unraveling of Christian and Aaron's plight than some viewers may imagine.
At once romantic, earthy and socially critical, "Latter Days" is a dynamic film filled with humor and pathos. It is sometimes raunchy, sometimes overflowing with spiritual and emotional yearning, and often melodramatic. Yet in its impassioned, enlightened way it rings true to the workings of the human heart and some of life's harsher realities.
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