Saint Seduces Sinner

Sensualist and evangelist come together in a dramatic, passionate kiss in Latter Days.
C. Jay Cox's new film is a kind of gay conversion fantasy

Two films hardly constitute a trend, but Angels in America and Latter Days might signal the birth of a new stereotype - the uptight Mormon man fresh out of the rural West who immediately jumps into bed with a big-city stud. Since evidence of homosexuality is grounds for excommunication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, seduction of one of its true believers is a kind of gay conversion fantasy. Writer-director C. Jay Cox, who grew up Mormon in eastern Nevada, apparently could not imagine the church embracing his sexual orientation. But in Latter Days he at least imagines a straight-laced Mormon embracing a gay hedonist.

In the opening sequence of the film, young Aaron Davis arrives in Los Angeles from Pocatello to begin a two-year stint of volunteer service proselytizing to the urban heathen. He moves into a garden apartment that he shares with three other Mormon missionaries. The clean-cut newcomer catches the eye of a handsome neighbor inaptly named Christian, who prides himself on his serial sexual conquests of male hunks. Christian is fascinated by the Mormons in his midst and sees Aaron, so innocent of worldly filth he does not even know how to do his laundry, as a challenge. He bets his fellow employees at a restaurant called Lila's that he can seduce Aaron.

Latter Days

Writ. & dir. C. Jay Cox; feat. Steve Sandvoss, Wes Ramsey, Rebekah Jordan, Amber Benson, Khary Payton, Jacqueline Bisset (NR)

Between sequences of lewd banter at Lila's and of Aaron going door-to-door spreading the revelations of Joseph Smith, sensualist and evangelist come together in a dramatic, passionate kiss. But it is interrupted in flagrante delicto by Aaron's colleagues. "God hates homos," one insists. Aaron is shipped back home to Idaho in extreme disgrace, and Christian is left to wonder about the man who got away. The paradox on which the entire plot turns is that Christian ends up being more seduced than seducer. Aaron has gotten to the heartless cad, not by converting him to Mormonism but by forcing him into soul-searching, searching for whether he even has a soul. "There is nothing about you, nothing, Christian, that is not skin deep," says Aaron early in their acquaintance. Christian tries to prove himself worthy of his new, unexpected love. He volunteers to work with a terminally ill gay man, who, ravaged by AIDS, tells him: "I used to be you." Christian reinvents himself, while Aaron confronts the intolerant sanctimony of the Latter-day Saints.

The manipulative plot of Latter Days is proof that gay love stories can be as sappy as straight ones. But Steve Sandvoss as Aaron and Wes Ramsey as Christian command attention. As Aaron's pious mother, Mary Kay Place undergoes a compelling arc from doting to loathing after her son comes out. As Lila, the world-weary restaurant owner who befriends the younger lovers, Jacqueline Bisset is a fount of platitudes. Consoling Christian for the loss of Aaron, she proclaims: "We seem intent on living through even the worst heartbreak." But it is Aaron who gets the screenplay's final lines. "I feel like we're all connected," he observes. "And it's beautiful and funny and good." He is a bit hyperbolic. •

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