Higher Ground Directed by: Vera Farmiga Cast: Vera Farmiga, Donna Murphy, John Hawkes, Joshua Leonard Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins Rating: R Release Date: September 9, 2011
PLOT: The story of Corinne's (Farmiga) spiritual life as she experiences a difficult marriage and life-changing relationships with those around her.
WHO'S IT FOR? I'm not really sure. I think the best audience would be someone who wants to change their church, not their religion.
Jesus Christ. That's who Corinne is trying to find. Do you want to watch her look?
Faith normally stays pretty far away from films, and that must have been Vera Fermiga's main motivation to bring this film to light, with a starring role as well as directing. We follow the path of Corinne as she tries to follow in the footsteps of the church. Her church is made up of a strong group of bible thumpers led by Pastor Bud (Bill Irwin).
The entire story spans many years and what I guess is one key moment is when Corinne falls for Ethan (Leonard). He's in a band. She's quiet and studious. He's ... in a band. They marry quickly, have a daughter and completely find themselves head over heels in love with the Lord when they decide he saved their daughter from drowning. It seems like an odd leap for Ethan to feel this way, but he never looks back from the Lord. Corinne quietly doubts her faith for years.
There is that word again, quietly. That's how this movie goes about. Bible thumpers praise the Lord over and over again. Men clearly put themselves above women in this church. Slowly, Corrine is met with some tragedy, but nothing in this movie is subtle. We're smacked over the head with everything. Her friend has a headache, then BAM something awful happens to her. The preacher asks if she wants to be left out with the dogs, then BAM dogs surround her outside a church. Corrine wasn't allowed to play the accordion as a child, then BAM she buys one! The personal growth feels very minimal. There are moments that do work in how Corrine became the way she is. I like Corrine's relationship with her mother, Kathleen (Donna Murphy) and father CW (John Hawkes), but neither actor is used very much and disappears for huge stretches. I actually feel like the comedy in Higher Ground is in the eye of the beholder. Someone who appreciates Corrine's church won't see anything funny. A person cynical about religion could find humor in a number of things. I left the theater not knowing why I was watching this film, when the humor was supposed to be present, or for whom the film is ideally for.
Eventually you realize it might not be Jesus Christ who Corrine is trying to find. Maybe it's just a new husband and some friends who will listen. I don't want to be one of those who listens. Higher Ground proves faith can be on display in a film, but that doesn't automatically mean it's worth watching.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10