Corinne, the protagonist of "Higher Ground", is a woman who was born and raised around religion; within the boundaries of a strictly Christian community. As a child, she did not question her God; she was thankful for what he had supposedly given to her, or at least, she just followed the teachings of both the Lord and the good people of her community. Those were the days in which ignorance was bliss; but as Corinne grew older, she became more intellectually complex. This is only normal; but would it be normal, in the eyes of the Church-going folk, to even consider abandoning her faith?
We follow Corinne from childhood, to her teen years and finally to adulthood (where she is played by Vera Farmiga). From her teen to her adult years, we witness the change in her beliefs; and frankly, there doesn't seem to be much at first. When she was at the ripe age of 20, she was doubtful when it came to God and his word, but a tragedy - which both she and her entire family evaded - changed everything, and now she considers herself one of those "born again" Christians. From then on, she lives a happy adult life, married and with children. One could say she's a housewife, but then again she's far less vulnerable and desperate than that. I admired Corinne throughout the picture because she was independent, free-spirited, and intelligent to the point where she knew when to say enough questioning is enough.
The film, which marks the directorial debut of actress Farmiga, is a story about faith and individualism; among other things. It deals with some touchy subjects indeed, but it treats them with enough respect so that we can invest in both the drama and some of the comedy that follows with them. The story is one of inconsistent tones - one moment, it's a tense drama, and another it gears more towards satirical territories - but to say it's uninteresting would be a lie. No doubt, I've seen a great many films dealing with philosophical themes surrounding religion, but for what it is, "Higher Ground" is fairly provocative, or at least it's good enough to engage. And it certainly makes me want to see more out of Farmiga; not only as an actress, but yes, also as the woman behind the camera.
What keeps the film from being great is, alas, its flawed simplicity. People need to understand one thing, if they happen to walk into this movie: it will not offer up insights in the form of big ideas, but rather insights in the form of smaller ones. Insightful is the right word to describe this kind of movie; one that is intelligent and entertaining, but also a little disappointingly typical. My problem was that I could only resonate with the film thematically; and therefore, some of the actual emotion ran almost completely dry. I still watched as it unfolded, but it tends to lack the payoff that would have made it, well, more than the sum of its parts.
Nevertheless, I really admire this film. It's a feel-good religious tale; populated by genuinely nice people, save for a single mean one, played by John Hawkes (who can play mean quite well). I left the film feeling, you know, kind of nice; given that the film is intriguing and simple in healthy, equal doses. Sure, it doesn't go out of its way to promote a state of intellectualism, but for most modern movie-goers, it should satisfy as well as entertain. I see it as imperfect, but still plenty solid; not to mention also very, very well-acted. What Farmiga lacks in visual style she makes up for in a general sense of restraint and control; on the material, no less. She seems to understand it, and she might even possess a sort of emotional connection with it. That is, after all, why people make movies like this one in the first place, right? That gets me thinking that, even though I have my complaints about the movie, I still liked it. It will probably hit close to home for a lot of people, and even I could connect to specific aspects of it. I wish it could have explored its themes with more depth, but out of the essential ingredients that it bears, there's a sort of startling beauty. Religious, non-religious; I think it's safe to say that the film has a wide audience, and that's why I'm recommending it.