Oh no, it’s another film about a religious good boy moving to the big bad city and discovering that he’s gay. I know, it sounds awful in that we’ve seen this a gazillion times sense, but LATTER DAYS is a cut above the rest for its gentle message about finding the strength to see other people, all people, with new eyes.
Our case in point is Aaron (a strikingly wholesome Steve Sandvoss). He’s a thoughtful guy with the soul of a poet, the face of a farmboy, and an attraction for his own sex that will only lead to trouble in La La Land, which is where he’s sent for his Mormon missionary work. He’s the type who sees the human heart not so much beating, as dancing as it keeps us tethered to this planet and this life. He didn’t get that from his Mormon upbringing, but he did get that enormous guilt trip from it. So when he meets the ironically monikered Christian (the hunkolicious Wesley A. Ramsey), the gay stud next door, one things leads to another and, well, I think we all know where it’s going.
And this is where LATTER DAYS rises above the hackneyed cliché of innocence lost and sexual discovery and a happily ever after of sensual delights. Aaron neatly turns the tables, in that decisive and inevitable moment, when Christian is offering a walk on the wild side, and Aaron is tempted, yet resists, not because sex is wrong outside of marriage, or because gay sex is a one-way ticket to damnation. No he resists when he realizes how shallow Christian is, for whom sex is a way to kill time. He does it so neatly, so sincerely, that for Christian it is a shock to the system on a par with a lightning strike. This preening narcissist suddenly becomes introspective, or at least as introspective as a life of superficiality allows him. For some reason, instead of caring about the bet he made with his waitstaff co-workers about being able to nail Aaron, Christian actually cares what Aaron thinks about him as person, not as a sex object. There’s fallout of the most unexpected nature as things change drastically and irrevocably for both of them and for all those in their orbit
LATTER DAYS does more than that, though. Sure, there are some coincidences in the plot that strain credulity, but if you go with a synchronicity point of view, as in fate or heaven or whatever, it’s not entirely insurmountable. It helps that our leads makes such indelible impressions with their unstudied performances, and that there is a cast of burnished supporting players (Mary Kay Place and Jacqueline Bisset among them), to add some sleek polish to the earnest proceedings. Writer/director C. Jay Cox makes a compelling case, not for religion, which comes in for its share of battering here as does hedonism for its own sake, but rather for a true spirituality that goes deeper than hanging crystals or the hollow recitation of a ritual. As Lila (a luminous, scene-stealing Bisset), the wise and wondrous owner of the restaurant where Christian and company work, tells us while offering some advice that everyone should heed, guilt has its place, but it’s also what will kill the spirit, no matter how bad or good a situation is. Cox can be forgiven for getting a little preachy when he makes his point with such an open heart and loving spirit.