Higher Ground

Directed By: Vera Farmiga

Starring: Vera Farmiga, Donna Murphy, John Hawkes, Nina Arianda, Dagmara Dominczyk, Bill Irwin, Joshua Leonard, Ebon-Moss Bachrach, and Taissa Varmiga

It's got to be really hard to direct and act in the same film, especially if the individual is the star of a film.  As an actor, I can imagine that a person would be used to direction from someone else other than himself.  As a director, there's probably no time whatsoever to get behind the camera.  The dual burdens of a starring role and the director's chair can be quite heavy.  That's why I respect Vera Farmiga's Higher Ground so much.  Having starred in her directorial debut, she had quite a bit of work to do.

Corinne Briggs (Farmiga) is a woman who has finally found the Lord.  After getting pregnant at the age of eighteen with her husband Ethan (Joshua Leonard), Corinne struggles with being a young wife and mother.  While out one night for a gig with Ethan, his band The Renegades, and their infant child, Corinne sees what the Lord can really do for her.  The group somehow drives into a lake in their RV.  In all the chaos of the situation, Corinne and Ethan nearly lose their child.  By the grace of God, Ethan finds him in the sinking RV just before it's completely submerged in water.  Realizing they owe their lives to the Lord, Corinne and Ethan join a fundamentalist Christian group and now consider themselves "Jesus Freaks".

At first, Corinne's time with her church is rosy, much like her marriage to Ethan.  She has blessed assurance that Jesus is hers.  She's really built a strong marriage and family in the Lord.  Corinne and Ethan even find dear friends in fellow couple Ned (Michael Chernus) and Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk).  Figuratively, Corinne has turned her porch light on and is waiting on Jesus.  As time progresses however, Corinne begins to wonder whether the Lord will come.  Corinne witnesses the chauvinistic tendencies of her church and begins questioning her beliefs.  As her faith deteriorates, so does her marriage with Ethan.

In her directorial debut, Vera Farmiga shows that she has what it takes to sit comfortably in the director's chair.  Farmiga puts together a film that really captures the faith struggle with which all truly committed believers must deal at some point in their lives.  From a filmmaking standpoint, the way in which she accomplishes this is by dividing the film into chapters that highlight phases of this struggle.  These chapters range from being called to the faith to arriving in a spiritual wilderness in the midst of this faith crisis.  With these chapters, she gives herself the framework necessary to build a film around Corinne's struggle to believe in what she doesn't see.

As an actress, Vera Farmiga delivers an impressive performance as well.  From being summoned by Christ and answering his call to being consumed by doubt and finding herself in the wilderness, Vera Farmiga is exceptionally entertaining as Corinne.  She's comical, provocative, and dynamic.  She's whatever the situation calls for.  This includes hilariously trying to speak in tongues and belittling her husband Ethan to the point that he's basically nothing.  Farmiga brings her best as Corinne.

Considering there's hardly a moment when her character is not on camera, Vera Farmiga has really done an impressive job as both an actress and director in Higher Ground.  My only issue with the film is that at times it feels like that Sunday morning sermon during which you’re destined to fall asleep.  It's just so dry and boring at times.  Nonetheless, it's a deft exploration of a faith crisis with a strong performance from the actress-director Vera Farmiga.  To cope with the dry parts, I recommend a little Chardonnay.  Higher Ground gets a strong 0.06% rating.