Sadly, it’s more like the Stevie Wonder-version.
Corinne (Vera Farmiga) is a devout Christian that has a nice family, a nice husband (Joshua Leonard), and feels as if her life needs nothing more than just hope, happiness, and faith. However, time goes on, and Corinne starts to question her faith as examples of life’s darkest-moments come to be seen.
Seeing as this is a movie about people that believe in God and follow His word, you could expect a movie like this to be too goofy, too wild, and too annoying to take seriously. Think about the scene in Borat, where he goes to the Mass with all of the devout-Christians acting like a bunch of nuts, because that’s pretty much what I was expecting from this movie and the material within it. However, Vera Farmiga does something different that I haven’t ever seen in one of these movies before: she passes little to no judgement on these people that surround her.
This is Farmiga’s directorial-debut and even though she does hit the rocky-patches like most rookies do, she still has enough in the tank to make this movie work and keep us interested as this woman continues to question her faith and all that she believes in. In fact, the whole trip that she takes in her life, is more interesting than anything else that has to do with her and her faith and I think that’s a bold step on Farmiga’s part to focus more on a life of a person, rather than the religion they follow, and how heavily they do so. You are involved with this woman’s life, you see her for all that she is, all she wants to be, and all that she could be, but yet, she still struggles for it.
I like how Farmiga doesn’t just pop us into the story and expect us to get to know these people right away, but instead, she goes for the relatively, understandable punch and shows us Corinne’s life from the very beginning until now, so we have a clearer picture of her and her story. You’ll see why she follows her faith and why she believes in God so much and to be honest, it’s pretty believable. I don’t want to give away what it is that changes her whole stance on life, but what does happen to her and in her life, is pretty realistic and I can’t say that I wouldn’t blame her for turning over to another side, either.
But it’s not all about her faith and what she does, it’s just a story of her life and it’s told in a simple way that doesn’t go for the heavy-handed, dramatics of life, but the understated, relate-able situations we can sometimes go through. Farmiga may not be doing anything flashy or game-changing behind the camera, but it’s that utter sense of simplicity and telling a story like a normal person is what really took me by surprise. I wasn’t as surprised by how normal it was, but I was surprised just by how good it actually was, so there’s definitely a lot of credit for that. Just the fact that we get to see a story, about a female, and a female that’s strong and can hold her own opinions and beliefs to herself, makes me feel like there’s more out there for female actresses’ and directors. Good job, Vera! You’re one hell of a gal!
As for the religious material, it’s pretty 50/50 on whether or not you may be offended. Farmiga makes the smart decision on never, ever passing judgement on any of these people or what they follow, which definitely doesn’t seem like it will offend anybody, but then again, that’s coming from an Atheist. I don’t believe in God, so therefore, I didn’t feel like there was much more for me to be offended by as if believing in God is and was something you needed in your daily-life, like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Maybe for some people, but not for me. That’s just like this movie, though, in how it may offend some, but didn’t offend me. I guess you have to take the whole “different strokes for different folks”-idea into debate and just let it slide. At least that’s how my simple ass looks at things.
Everything in this movie was kicking me in the right part of my ass to where I could really be interested and invested, but after awhile, it starts to lose steam after a final-act breakdown of epic proportions. After Corinne begins to change her ways and realize some more things about the life she can live, she meets an Irish dude that seems like such an obvious character, that he’s more or less just a convention of the plot to move it along. That, and well, the message of the movie is kind of skewered and I don’t know if that was her intent or not.
See, this whole movie’s point, to me at least, seemed as if it was going for the idea that faith can help those who want it, who need it, and who want to accept it into their lives, but for some, like life, it’s not always clear-cut and can change at any second. That’s the whole idea of this movie that I feel like I was beginning to endure and understand but then, out of nowhere, Farmiga changes it up on me and has me totally think otherwise, and not in the good way, either. I really can’t give too much away without spoiling all of this but it seems like the final point this movie seems to be making is that people do change, but not too much. There, I’ve said it and I’m done. Sorry if I said too much but it had to be understood.
Farmiga is fine behind the camera, but she’s even better in front of it and gives Corinne a very real, down-to-Earth appeal that’s easy to stand by and easy to understand. Farmiga feels like she was meant for this role of Corinne because as much as this gal may seem like she’s really in love with God and knows the Bible from start-to-finish, she takes you by surprise in showing you that it’s only a cliche, and not everybody is like that. Corinne seems a tad too complex for this story, since it does seem to go in one obvious direction the whole time, but Farmiga is always watchable, always beautiful, and always keeping this movie alive and on-fire, even when the story itself may hit a couple of puddles.
Farmiga’s also pretty good at choosing her cast and gives each and every person a time to shine. Joshua Leonard plays her hubby that make seem like a bit of a dip because he gets her knocked-up at such an early-age and only really gets married to her because of it, but after awhile, you realize that he loves her and just wants more from her, than she can even give. Dagmara Dominczyk plays Corinne’s fun and high-spirited best gal-pal and definitely brings a lot of energy to Corinne, as well as this movie, but is forced to take the sidelines for a tad bit after a plot-twist somewhere in the middle. Oh, and there’s also John Hawkes as Corinne’s daddy, who we don’t get to see much of but what we do get to see, is still very good and powerful, especially one birthday party scene that is willing to really catch you off-guard by it’s emotional-impact. These are just a few of the highlights, as everybody else is pretty fantastic.
Consensus: The last 30 minutes may change the movie’s whole outlook, but regardless, Higher Ground is still a very simple and subtle story, that’s done very well thanks to Farmiga’s acting, as well as her directing.
Great review. I think a large part of the strength of the film is Farmiga’s personal connection to the story: on the DVD features she mentions how Corinne’s story/questions are very much her own. Here’s my review as a believer: http://eternitainment.com/2012/04/22/higher-ground-2011/ This was funny by the way: “Who’s paddling that thing?” 🙂
She knows how to make a story like this, seem so emotional and gripping and that’s what I appreciated the most from her. Thanks Matt!
Nice review. Coming from a different standpoint than yourself, I also found it to be an interesting look at faith and religion. Definitely loses steam toward the end, though.