The Mormon Church factors heavily into both films and a love story drives their second halves, but The Falls is definitely its own film.
Nick Ferrucci stars as Elder RJ Smith, a young man from Idaho headed to San Francisco for his mission work with the Mormon Church. And Benjamin Farmer co-stars as Elder Chris Merril, the missionary companion RJ is assigned to.
Elder Merril takes this mission work very seriously and initially comes across as cold, distant and by-the-book about it all. But he is effective with the street ministry — a far cry from Elder Smith, who fumbles through his initial attempts to stop people long enough to get through his spiel.
They work well together until they have dinner at the home of a potential convert named Jim (Paul Angelo) who ambushes them with questions meant to pokes holes in the story they told him about Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church. The discussion rattles Elder Merril to the point of calling all his mission work into question and he begins to slack off in his duties.
Elder Smith eventually follows suit and they both start missing church meetings and other appointments in favor of going to the movies and spending an increasing amount of time at the home of another potential convert named Rodney (Brian Allard), with whom they’ve developed a friendship.
Their slacking off, which has already aroused the suspicions of their zone leader Elder Harris (Quinn Allan), eventually morphs into a romantic relationship that begins in a wooded area when Elder Merrit pins Elder Smith to a tree, kisses him and kneels down to give him a blowjob.
Several cute moments between the two of them (my favorite being a city bus scene where Elder Merrit kisses Elder Smith on the cheek) and a sweet discussion about a possible future together comes to an abrupt stop when Elder Harris stops by unannounced and catches them in bed together.
This causes a surprising and immediate rift between the Elders as the future they had pondered suddenly fades away once Elder Merril shows that he isn’t as ready to walk toward it now that he suddenly actually has to face it.
Elder Harris reports them to the President (Garland Lyons), who condemns Elders Smith and Merril’s acts and suggests that Elder Smith go home to figure things out and make things right with God – leaving him with several decisions to make about his sexuality, his relationships and his standing in the church.
When it comes time to face the Stake President, an empowered and unapologetic RJ confesses his feelings for Elder Merril, shames the church for no longer allowing him to a part of it because of who he is and bravely decides to takes his leave of it.
With a new life ahead of him, RJ ponders his future and takes to the road to find it – and perhaps Elder Merril as well.
The Falls is a wonderful film with very fine performances from Ferrucci, Farmer, Allard and Allen. Ferrucci shines in his monologue to the Stake President toward the end of the film – which was shot in a close-up that would call out the weaknesses of a lesser actor. And while Farmer had no such singular standout moment, he had several bright spots throughout the film where what he conveyed and reflected in his face provided a level of subtext and backstory that enriched an already wonderful story.
While it would have been easy to make the Mormon Church the enemy of gay love, The Falls is less indicting of it than Latter Days – the dinner scene with Jim notwithstanding. The Elders truly believe in what they’re doing and maintain a strong love for Jesus Christ (one of my favorite moments in the film are the Elders discussing this while lying in bed together).
In this film, loving a man and loving Jesus isn’t as much an either/or proposition — so no one has to give up one for the other. And in this film, being a part of the Mormon Church or not being a part of the Mormon Church is a choice as opposed to the oppressive force that ex-communicates anyone who doesn’t fall in line with their tenets.
Ferrucci and Farmer exhibited great on-screen chemistry in their intimate scenes, but it was all the more impressive how they portrayed their characters’ connection to each other through an exchanged glance or smile as if they’d been together for a million years. And the seeds for the love story that developed between them by the second half of the film were effectively planted throughout the first part of the film so that it didn’t come out of nowhere or feel forced.
I found myself rooting so hard for RJ and Chris to pursue a life together outside the Mormon Church (assuming they wouldn’t be allowed to pursue one within it) that I was very disappointed when it ended so abruptly. But the film ended with a hint that if they could make something work, RJ was certainly going to try.
Such an ending usually leaves me wanting more by way of story, but at least in this case there is a sequel – 2013’s The Falls: Testament to Love with Ferrucci and Farmer reprising their roles.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Jon Garcia