The gay romantic melodrama Latter Days draws on an unconscionable number of conventions, but works in the end because of its commitment to its characters and a handful of fine performances.
Christian, played by the former soap opera star Wes Ramsey, is that stock figure of gay drama, the hopelessly handsome party boy whose life is devoted to casual sex. A waiter in a Los Angeles restaurant owned and operated by the radiantly maternal Lila (the always welcome Jacqueline Bisset), Christian accepts a US$50 wager from his co-workers that he will be able to seduce Aaron (Steve Sandvoss), an apparently straight Mormon missionary who has moved into the apartment opposite his.
Following one of Hollywood's favorite cliches, what begins as a cynical bet develops into a deep romance. After some initial resistance, Aaron surrenders to Christian's charms, discovering his homosexuality in the process. At the same time Christian discovers, in Aaron's sincerity and innocence, the deeper values that have been missing from his own life.
Latter Days was written and directed by C. Jay Cox, who wrote the screenplay for the 2002 Reese Witherspoon vehicle Sweet Home Alabama. Cox knows his formulas a bit too well for his own good, and the reliance of Latter Days on coincidence and contrivance, particularly in its forced final third, gets in the way of his low-key, naturalistic direction.
When Aaron's missionary roommates walk in on his first, tentative embrace with Christian, the resulting scandal sends Aaron back to his extremely conservative hometown in Idaho.
Aaron is excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and pitched, by his uncomprehending mother (Mary Kay Place, excellent and uncondescending as usual in a role that cries out for caricature), into a psychiatric hospital to be "straightened out" by electroshock therapy and ice baths. This gets to be a bit too much, and the picture loses a good bit of its credibility just as it is cruising into its grandly romantic finale.
Written and directed by: C. Jay Cox
Starring: Steve Sandvoss (Elder Aaron Davis), Wes Ramsey (Christian), Jacqueline Bisset (Lila), Mary Kay Place (Sister Davis), Rebekah Jordan (Julie), Amber Benson (Traci), Khary Payton (Andrew), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Ryder), Rob McElhenney (Harmon), David Poser (Gilford), Erik Palladino (Keith) and Jim Ortlieb (Farron Davis)
Running time: 93 minutes
Taiwan Release: today
Whereas the bulk of gay films from the 1980s and 90s were concerned with the issues of coming out -- and then consumed by the issues surrounding AIDS -- a new generation of gay drama seems to be emerging with movies like Latter Days.