Latter Days

Y

Frank Scheck
TLA Releasing

NEW YORK -- Representing a significant departure from his screenplay for the hit romantic comedy "Sweet Home Alabama," this directorial debut from C. Jay Cox is a sometimes comic melodrama depicting the burgeoning romantic relationship between a hunky L.A. waiter and a repressed gay Mormon. While "Latter Days" doesn't manage to blend its disparate tones into a satisfying coherent whole, it is an obviously heartfelt effort that should attract art house interest because of its controversial subject matter. It opened Friday in various theaters in New York, Los Angeles and, yes, Salt Lake City.

The central characters are the ironically named Christian (Wes Ramsey), a well-toned West Hollywood waiter, and Elder Aaron Davis (Steve Sandvoss), one of four Mormon missionaries who have moved into Christian's apartment complex. Christian, trying to win a bet with co-workers at the trendy restaurant at which he works, attempts to seduce Aaron, who is clearly confused about his sexuality.

But what starts out as a deception turns real when Christian falls for the younger man, and both start to question their long-held values and beliefs.

Cox's screenplay, while occasionally lapsing into the sort of cliches endemic to so many gay-themed films, generally treats its unusual subject matter with dignity and complexity, and the characters are well-drawn and sympathetic. This is particularly true of many of the supporting characters, played by several well-known actors. These include Lila (Jacqueline Bisset, looking even more gorgeous than usual), the supportive and advice-giving restaurant owner; sister Davis (Mary Kay Place), Aaron's mother, who is desperately trying to come to terms with her son's homosexuality; Ryder (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Aaron's homophobic fellow missionary; and Keith (Eric Palladino), a bitter and sardonic AIDS sufferer.

While the leads are not quite as accomplished, Sandvoss is highly sympathetic as the conflicted Aaron, and Ramsey provides the sort of looks and charisma that makes his character's irresistibility quite believable. Cox's direction is uneven at best, and the film's technical elements are rough-hewn, but overall, "Latter Days" boasts a sincerity lacking in far too many indie efforts.