Vera Farmiga has lots to smile about as Higher Ground’s director and star.
HIGHER GROUND (Vera Farmiga). 114 minutes. Opens Friday (September 23). See listing. Rating: NNNN
A powerful performance by first-time director Vera Farmiga (Up In The Air) and a subtle approach to an intriguing subject make Higher Ground a winner.
The director/star plays aspiring writer Corinne, who in the 70s (played as a teenager by Farmiga's daughter Taissa Farmiga) survives a car accident with her musician husband, Ethan (Boyd Holbrook), and their infant daughter. The incident inspires them to embrace Jesus with a passion and to settle into a community of what were then called Jesus freaks.
Women in the group are not allowed to preach and must dress modestly, but you can't really call this a creepy cult. It's a loving environment, surprisingly open about sexuality (within marriage anyway), committed to all kinds of alt perspectives - vegetarianism, for example - and accepting of the free-spirited energy of Corinne's best friend, Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk in a lovely turn).
Corinne's not in prison. She just, in her later life, has doubts - major doubts - especially when Jesus stops smiling down on Annika and Corinne starts losing sexual interest in Ethan (Joshua Leonard as the adult).
Farmiga expertly captures the internal conflict between the lover of poetry and creativity and the quasi-believer who desperately wants to fit in and stay connected to her children. Her closing sermon to her former congregation is a spectacular mix of confusion and conviction. Fascinating.