I've always been a fan of Vera Farmiga as an actress (she's probably most recognizable from The Departed but made her first impression on me as a drug-addled housewife in 2004's otherwise mediocre Down to the Bone). She's always stood out to me as capable of finding particular complexity even when she's thrown a lame role like her prostitute character in Breaking and Entering, beautiful but asymmetrical. So I was very intrigued to see her debut as a director as well as lead, Higher Ground, which opens in Portland theaters today.
Based on the memoir This Dark World: A Story of Faith Found and Lost by Caroline Briggs, the film follows the coming of age of Corinne (Farmiga), as she develops from a bookish teen in a small town to a very young and pregnant bride to a fervent born-again '70s-era Christian to an unsatisfied woman questioning her marriage and faith. The portrayal of her community in the church—the acoustic Jesus songs, the health food, the barefoot Bible study groups—about bent me sideways with recognition, unlike the portrayals of Christianity we most often see in film (either some combination of dark, corrupt, scolding, and self-hating, or magical fairies, but rarely relatable, well-intentioned people trying to find peace and do good).
That's not to say that it's uncritical; it's very fairness and acceptance of these characters' nuances make its charges all the more effective when leveled, and it takes careful aim at the ingrained patrimony that permeates Christianity, with Corinne—deep, deep in her faith-zone—constantly being gently scolded not to appear to be preaching to the men or to wear dresses that might catch another husband's eye. It's a meditative, sensitive film, one which Farmiga said was a "very hormonal" process (she was in her fourth and fifth month of pregnancy during filming), but I doubt that's the only reason it contains some of the most resonant depictions of female relationships, motherhood, and sexuality I've seen on a big screen in quite some time.
(She also bears an incredible resemblance to my aunt in this movie. I can't get over it.)