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Place faith in Higher Ground

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Based on the memoir by Carolyn S. Briggs (with the author sharing screenplay duties with Tim Metcalfe), Higher Ground is an honest and probing look at Christianity, a stance that makes it an anomaly in an industry that tends to paint all members of the faith as little more than Bible-thumping rednecks.

Up in the Air Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga, here also making her directorial debut, plays Corinne Walker, part of a close-knit Protestant sect that also includes her husband Ethan (Joshua Leonard) and her best friend Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk). As a young child, Corinne listened to her minister when he insisted that she accept Jesus Christ into her heart, but as an adult, she has occasional doubts that aren't being addressed. She envies those around her who truly seem gripped by a holy spirit. She bristles when subtly reminded that it's the men who lead their group and that when she expresses her opinions, it sounds too much like she's "preaching." And she witnesses a tragedy that leaves her wondering just exactly how the result could be the will of God.

While the film gently pokes fun at the community members' occasional close-mindedness or outright naivety — one amusing scene finds the men dumbfoundedly listening to a cassette on how to pleasure their wives as God would desire — it never patronizes its characters nor paints them as one-dimensional foils (you would never see these people picketing soldiers' funerals). Instead, it chooses to show how their brand of automatic yet sincere acceptance might be what they need but isn't necessarily right for Corinne, who longs for a comfort she can't quite grasp, as if it were a blanket that's fallen just out of reach off a bed. Higher Ground grapples with weighty issues in a mature and pensive manner, reinstating a measure of faith in the way Hollywood's disciples are willing to tackle this thorny subject.

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