Vera Farmiga directed and stars in a movie that really examines faith, specifically Christianity-based faith. It is more often uncomfortable but sometimes profound and inspiring, which seems about the realistic proportion of thinking about religion.
Corinne (Farmiga) first hears about the call to Jesus as a child in a church. As she grows up, she marrie high school sweetheart Ethan (Joshua Leonard) after pregnancy and they spend their family life in a Church community. Bill (Norbert Leo Butz) seems to rule over the community as he insists on making families’ personal business a matter of the church.
You know something’s up when young Corinne has visions of her pastor (Bill Irwin) and mother (Donna Murphy) practicing swimming naked on the pews. When she decides to be baptized as an adult it seems welcoming at first, but always overbearing. Soon you see how the women in the congregation kindly discourage Corinne from speaking up or even dressing nicely in public. They suppress independent thought with kindness.
Bill lectures the men on pleasing their wives, so at least they acknowledge sex. Playing religious audio sex guides is not the way to do it, but Bill wants his families to protect themselves from adulterous temptations.
What’s most uncomfortable is that every single aspect of their life is about God. That’s no kind of balance. Even a children’s soccer game becomes theological. Come on, God wants you to have a diverse life experience. Ethan and Corinne are correct in kicking out her druggie sister Wendy (Nina Arianda) but that’s got nothing to do with God. It’s just morally right to remove an unhealthy influence from a house with children, or even adults really. You can kick her out just because you don’t want cocaine in the house.
The emotion is really raw and frank. Confronting any of these issues is intense, and the film goes there. Corinne can’t ever escape. Everywhere she goes is full of religious talk. Obviously we bring our own baggage to interpret these events. I see it as a stifling of broader scope issues. Maybe Farmiga intended to play Corinne as a deserter who abandons the religious convictions she herself holds.
As a director, Farmiga is skillful and confident. Her camera usually tracks steadily, showing she knows how to present drama without showing off. It’s the type of movie where you have to be prepared and open to exploring tough concepts and feelings. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with a classy production to discuss amongst yourselves.