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Friday Film Review: Latter Days

Latter Days (2003)
Genre: Gay Romance
Grade: B

I’m an absolute sucker for coming out stories and especially, apparently, for “religious twink overcoming his background to accept who he is” stories. This film delivers quite nicely. I came to it oddly: I stumbled across a novelization of the film while cruising (so to speak) the gay and lesbian fiction section at Barnes & Noble. Being what I am, I read the end and loved it, so streamed the movie on Netflix. The ending in the novelization was actually better than the ending in the movie (a little more dialogue, a little more emotional depth), but I still wasn’t disappointed in the movie.

Christian is your typical — one might even say stereotypical — gay LA party boy: a gym rat who fucks a new guy every night and has a job as a waiter while he tries to break into acting (I think — not super-clear). (Jacqueline Bisset, BTW, still gorgeous, moonlights as his wisdom-dispensing, snarky boss.) Aaron is a Mormon from Idaho on mission to LA. He lives with three other Elders in the same apartment complex as Christian and Christian and his friends make a bet that Christian can seduce one of the Mormons. He goes after Aaron because Aaron isn’t a blatant homophobe, but Christian’s first attempt at seduction is aborted when he uses his “seducing straight guys” line of “it doesn’t have to mean anything” on Aaron and Aaron balks because, to him, his first kiss, his first sex DOES mean something. Because Aaron is for real. He really believes in his mission, he really believes that he can do some good, and he really believes that things should have meaning. He accuses Christian of being shallow, which, of course, is true, spurring Christian to undergo a Cher-from-Clueless-like shallow-person personality makeover that actually sticks and is quite cute.

When they finally get together, they are, of course, discovered, and Aaron is sent home in disgrace and shame. The emotional violence his mother inflicts on him will haunt me. I know the answer to this, but do people really do this to their children? I guess the question is, HOW can people do this to their children? How can belief overcome what should be unconditional love? How can a mother drive her child to suicide by rejecting him and then not understand that it’s her fault? These scenes were played sparingly and well.

The actor who plays Christian occasionally overacts in the really emotional scenes. The requisite scene in which he tells his own coming out story skirts the edge of farce where I kept expecting him to stop, smile, and say “psych!” which is not necessarily the response the film was attempting to evoke. But all that is nothing when confronted with his sheer prettiness. :) Additionally, the pacing is, at times, odd: slow then superfast, told, not shown — but not distractingly so. And I could have done with a little more lingering over the denouement, but then I’m a emotions-whore.

Fair warning (or, perhaps, enticement): the film is not shy about swearing and even less shy about nudity. Christian and Aaron take off all their clothes and you don’t get just discrete flank shots. While there’s no erect penises, there are certainly penises. And that’s very happy-making! :)

This movie is not a romantic comedy but it’s not a drama either, because it has its happy ending. The themes in this movie are not subtle, but they’re heartwarming and true, nonetheless: interconnectedness and community, character depth and worthiness, how we effect and affect everyone around us. The narrative does a great job of showing how one person’s small, unthinking kindness can work in others for good or ill in an ever-widening web. There are no coincidences, or if there are, they can still serve a purpose. Everything means something, in one way or another.

And love is love is love and deserves to be recognized as such. Grade: B

P.S. I watched this again with my husband and it’s just as much fun the second time around and I felt the emotions more deeply, perhaps because I was comparing it with itself, rather than with the novelization. A happy, feel-good movie with a great message.

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

16 Comments

  1. Rebyj
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 04:18:56

    I have watched this movie probably 4 times. The religious pain in it was very well written. Crazy as hell but realistic in Aaron’s family actions and reactions and especially Aaron himself coming to terms with what he’d been led to believe and what he knew about himself. It was a captivating film on a lot of levels. It plays on the cable channel Logo once a month or so.

  2. Kerry
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 06:51:21

    This is also available as a streaming film on Netflix.

  3. Fae Sutherland
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 07:23:57

    I love this movie and have owned it since I first discovered it a few years ago. I watch it every few months because while it’s not the best acted movie and it’s no blockbuster, it’s lovely and cute and has enough angst for the angst-whore in me. Plus there aren’t a lot of decent gay movies out there and this is one.

    If you’re interested in other gay interest films, I highly recommend any of Chad Allen’s stuff. He’s made quite the niche for himself as gay hollywood’s leading man. :) He’s not half bad to look at either.

  4. Sarah Frantz
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 07:37:25

    @Fae Sutherland: I loved SHELTER as well. The ending fell apart a little, but it was a good gay romance.

  5. Fae Sutherland
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 08:16:22

    @Sarah Frantz: Gah see, everyone says Shelter was so great but I have yet to remember to buy it! *heads to Amazon right now before I forget again* Thanks for the reminder!

  6. Jayne
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 08:17:24

    Plus there aren't a lot of decent gay movies out there and this is one.

    When Sarah and I chatted about her doing this review, I told her I’d been trying to find some other good GLBT movies to review but the ratings on the ones at Netflix generally range from poor to piss poor.

  7. jmc
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 09:10:24

    @Jayne

    Kissing Jessica Stein was generally well-reviewed by mainstream and GLBT media. If I were to liken it to a reading genre, I would say that it is rather like chick lit. There’s no HEA per se, but at the end of the film all the characters are in good places, relationship-wise. It airs on Logo every so often, I think, and is available on Netflix.

  8. Fae Sutherland
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 09:32:26

    @Jayne: There’s not much to choose from, sadly.

    One I highly recommend and really blew me away with how awesome it was is the movie Boy Culture. It’s really well done and with great acting and humor and drama and very, very nice to look at men. One of which being the same guy who plays Noah on LOGO’s Noah’s Arc. It’s a great, fresh take on the gay hustler trope, with a good dose of romance thrown in along with a nice message about the family you choose. Not to mention lovely, lovely men. :)

    If you want to review another GLBT film, I’d love to see Boy Culture reviewed. It’s about ten times better acted and written (it’s based on a novel is probably why) than Latter Days, much as I love LD.

  9. mina kelly
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 10:17:55

    My Beautiful Laundrette is a good GLBT film (and a good look at multi-racial romances as well). It’s not my personal favourite, but it deserves it’s classic status and it is nice to find an 80s GLBT film that doesn’t dwell on AIDs. And a young Daniel Day Lewis is always a plus!

  10. SonomaLass
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 12:56:33

    Sigh. I know someone who really needs to see this movie, but no way he would. Maybe someday — but yeah, I DO know these parents.

  11. Jayne
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 18:40:30

    Thanks for all the suggestions on possible review movies. I’d been eyeing the Jessica Stein movie at Netflix and will check the others out as well.

  12. Chicklet
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 22:54:10

    Have you seen Beautiful Thing? It’s one of my favorites. I guess it would be classified as YA if it were a book. *g*

  13. Rissa
    Nov 14, 2009 @ 05:02:46

    Another “YA”/”coming out” film to recommend would be Fucking Ã…mÃ¥l by Swedish director Lukas Moodysson (apparently the title has been censored to über-PC “Show Me Love” whatever for English language markets).

    I also enjoyed the BBC’s/Sarah Waters’ excellent Victorian period drama Fingersmith (Tipping the Velvet failed to win me over, though). Another period drama that has stayed with me is the WWII drama (a Jewish girl and a gay couple in nazi-occuppied France) Un amour à taire/A Love to Hide by French director Christian Faure. Powerful and real emotions, no HEA though, but I think this is An Important film.

  14. Kate Davies
    Nov 14, 2009 @ 17:47:13

    Yay! Movie recommendations! I really enjoyed Shelter, and have been on the lookout for other coming out/GLBT movies that have, at the least, hopeful endings. Thanks to Joan/Sarah F for the great review of Latter Days (now at the top of my Netflix queue), and all the commenters for additional suggestions!

    My current favorite m/m storyline is on, of all things, a German soap opera, Alles Was Zaehlt (All That Matters). It’s not a coming out story, at least in its current incarnation (the coming out story-which was wonderful-happened two years ago and was promptly destroyed by the Powers That Be when they shoved Deniz back in the closet), but the story arc of Deniz and Roman finding each other again has been exceptionally well done. Great acting, directing, writing, camera work — just brilliant. I highly recommend it.

    (If, like me, you don’t speak German, the best place to watch the DeRo storyline is on the EskimoKissProject You Tube channel, put together by three talented women who download, clip, subtitle and post the story. With hilarious commentary in the description box. For DeRo 2.0, start with episode 730.)

  15. JenB
    Nov 15, 2009 @ 00:04:43

    Loved Latter Days, but not nearly as much as Shelter. That one’s soooooo good. I also second the rec for Beautiful Thing. It’s very cute and sweet, and it has a positive message. Another favorite is Get Real, a cute British film about two high school guys. That one ends like most real-life high school first romances, but the message is very positive.

    Imagine Me & You is excellent if you’re in the mood for a good f/f film.

  16. Hung
    May 17, 2010 @ 01:44:53

    Latter Days is surprisingly sweet, but I wish the movie could elaborate more on the denoument. I don’t have any success finding an e-book version of the novel. I’d love to read more on the emotional exchanges. Anyone know where I can buy it or download it, let me know. Thanks.

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