Elder Aaron Davis, a 19-year-old sexually confused Mormon missionary, moves into an apartment complex in West Hollywood with a fellow group of missionaries. There he meets a neighbor, Christian, who, on a bet, tries to seduce him. When Christian exposes Davis’ secret desire, Davis rejects Christian for being shallow and empty. As each boy’s reality is shattered, the two are drawn into a passionate romance that risks destroying their lives.
This movie was nothing like I expected. I found it via recommendation from Netflix, apparently based on my ratings for 10 Things I Hate About You, 3rd Rock from the Sun, and (of all things) Treasure Planet. All of these count Joseph Gordon-Levitt among their casts but otherwise they’re wildly divergent genres spanning a number of release years; my ratings for them varied quite a bit as well.
I grew up in Salt Lake City but I’m not a Mormon, so I find the LDS Church’s portrayal in movies fascinating. This movie’s depiction of the missionary experience looks spot-on, though, from what little direct knowledge I have. From the goodbyes at the airport (mom crying, dad emotionally distant and awkward) to the proselytizers’ knocks on the doors and the doors immediately slamming in faces (I’ve done that to LDS missionaries a time or three) to the stories I’ve heard returned missionaries tell about what they’re allowed and forbidden to do while on their missions—all a bit, well, insane to non-members but accepted with little or no question by the kids going on these missions.
I figured the movie would be about Aaron’s resistance to Christian’s advances and the comedy and drama resulting from that, but I was flat wrong. Aaron’s already uncertain about his sexuality when he arrives in Los Angeles and he responds passionately to Christian, but with tremendous guilt (almost Catholic-level guilt, in fact). Eventually the two experience wrenching loss and must learn to cope with the huge changes in their lives.
I’d only heard about this movie from its good buzz on the festival circuit a couple years ago. I’m not a film-festival attendee, so I never thought about it again until it appeared in my recommendations, but I’m certainly glad I took a chance on it. I was completely caught up in the passion and romance of the lead characters’ first encounter and later as their lives changed, I found myself actively caring about the directions they took. I was surprised by how much it mattered to me.