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Missionary Position

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A single generation ago, William Friedkin's and Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band was a sensation and a scandal because it dealt openly with gay characters. As recently as a half dozen years ago or so, a gay friend told me that she usually went to movies which featured gay characters, even if the films weren't getting good reviews, because popular entertainment so seldom acknowledged that gay people existed at all. But that was before Ellen DeGeneres and Will & Grace. Maybe it's a kind of progress of tolerance that gay people can feel little urgency to go see a formulaic mediocrity like writer/director C. Jay Cox's Latter Days.

Set in contemporary Los Angeles, Latter Days is the story of two gay men who come together from two worlds so different they might as well exist in different solar systems. Christian Markeli (Wes Ramsey) is a gay stud, fit, sleek and handsome as a model. He makes a nice living as a waiter in a fine-dining restaurant and lives for sexual conquest. He's the king of the one-night stand, and he takes a particular delight in seducing men who have always thought of themselves as straight. When a group of Mormon missionaries moves into his apartment complex, he makes a bet with his friends that he can score with one of them. Christian's prey is tall, blond, earnest Aaron Davis (Steve Sandvoss). Aaron hails from Pocatello, Idaho, where his father is a high ranking lay official in the Mormon church. We suspect that Aaron has long fretted about his sexual orientation but has grown up in a place where homosexuality is so alien that he's barely let his true nature rise to a conscious level. Aaron is also almost ethereally decent. He's the kind of person who will attempt to comfort a crying stranger.

In the first instance, then, Christian's determination to seduce Aaron is a contest between the forces of darkness and light. And the reversal that Cox strives to execute has all the subtlety of an aircraft carrier making a 180-degree turn. Given the opportunity, straight-laced Aaron wants to kiss Christian's pouty lips, but he sees the predator for what he is and turns away at the last moment. So now we have the development that Jack Nicholson expressed so succinctly to Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets: "You make me want to be a better person." Aaron dons his uniform of white shirt and dark trousers to knock on doors in search of souls while Christian looks inward for some personal soul searching.

It's no longer about a bet; Christian's in love. And in order to win the boy of his dreams, Christian has got to become good. So he does. He begins to volunteer with an organization that delivers meals to AIDS patients no longer able to care for themselves. At first, Christian performs his do-gooder chores with a chip on his shoulder, but before you know it, he's a kind and caring person. And even though it means Aaron will have to go to hell, how can he resist a kind and caring person who looks like a model? The primary little problem with all this is that the script never lets Aaron get to know Christian well enough to convince us that Aaron would sacrifice his whole life for this particular man. And correspondingly, the film fails to adduce sufficient details to enable us to understand why a hedonist like Christian would sustain any interest in a straight-arrow like Aaron. But these are common flaws in heterosexual romantic dramas, so why shouldn't a gay writer have the same privileges of underdevelopment and groaning obviousness? Once Aaron and Christian have engaged in significant backside baring and have rolled around in motel sheets for a while (in post-coital glow they congratulate themselves for "going at it" for two and half straight hours), the film tries to wrench us into another topic. Fellow missionaries catch Aaron and Christian kissing and turn Aaron over for excommunication. He's sent home to Pocatello so that his mom and dad can be ashamed of him publicly and mean to him privately. Cox's attack on withering prejudice practiced by people who claim to be followers of a Jesus whose central message was that of tolerance is fair enough. But as with everything in this movie, every opportunity for subtlety is speedily escaped. I am reminded of the ardent "pro-life" Dan Quayle's response when asked what he would do if his teenage daughter were to get pregnant out of wedlock. That would be something for the daughter and her mother to decide, he concluded with supreme inconsistency and appalling lack of personal insight. This film needs that kind of ideological complication. Instead, it asks Mary Kay Place to feel nothing for a gay son she had doted on when she thought he was straight. I don't believe it, and it's not interesting.

Julie (Rebekah Jordan) and Christian (Wes Ramsey) soak up the sun in C. Jay Cox's Latter Days. - CARL BARTELS
  • Carl Bartels
  • Julie (Rebekah Jordan) and Christian (Wes Ramsey) soak up the sun in C. Jay Cox's Latter Days.

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