At the heart of Kareem Mortimer's "Children of God" are two stories--one of religious intolerance and one of self acceptance. This is perhaps not surprising considering that these two issues tend to be recurrent themes when dealing openly with homosexuality in film (and in life). Mortimer's piece is certainly an easy recommendation, but the two sides of the screenplay don't always rest in an easy alliance. On the one hand, the gentle and surprisingly subtle story of love awakening is expertly done with moments of amazing tenderness and real warmth. Conversely, as the picture attempts to deal with the political and religious aspects of the story--things can be a bit heavy handed. In many ways, I want to say this film is absolutely great and in many ways it is. But when it matters the most, the film gives in to some cliches that were completely unnecessary--including the most expected finale in films trying too hard to make a point. I guess I'm torn because I both loved this movie AND wished for more.
Set in the Bahamas, the story introduces us to a shy art student (Johnny Ferro) grappling with his sexual identity. When he gets out of the city, he meets an alluring new friend (Stephen Tyrone Williams) who helps break down the barriers that he has built around himself. A mass of neurotic tendencies, Ferro is absolutely terrific and understated and is well matched by the appealing Williams. As Ferro starts to accept himself, Williams must also begin to face the expectations placed on him by his family and society in general. This story is so well told and heartfelt and I was completely won over. Concurrently, we meet a religious leader's wife who is leading a movement against homosexual rights. Of course, her hypocritical husband is a closeted man who has given her a venereal disease. How's that for convenient plotting? Everywhere you turn, characters are watching news about the rally and the political movement on television--it must be a monumental thing to be so widely viewed!
After a big confrontation in church, things start to resolve themselves very quickly for everyone involved. But then we get that unfortunate ending. Mortimer opts for a poignant finish that has been telegraphed and used in dozens of other films--and it's a shame really, because prior to that the film really felt like it had a fresh and unique viewpoint. All the actors acquit themselves well, even in the religious subplot where the script pushes far beyond subtlety. I'm certainly not trying to sound discouraging--I loved most of the movie. I happen to think this has many elements of depth and power and had the potential to be a brilliant film. It falls short in the end (for me anyway)--but still remains a significantly accomplished, professional, and well made entry into a genre that needs all the good films it can get. KGHarris, 6/11.