Higher Ground (film)

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Higher Ground
HIGHERGROUNDposter.JPG
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Vera Farmiga
Produced by Claude Dal Farra
Renn Hawkey
Carly Hugo
Matt Parker
Jon Rubinstein
Screenplay by Carolyn S. Briggs
Tim Metcalfe
Based on This Dark World 
by Carolyn S. Briggs
Starring Vera Farmiga
Joshua Leonard
Norbert Leo Butz
Dagmara Dominczyk
John Hawkes
Bill Irwin
Ebon Moss-Bachrach
Donna Murphy
Music by Alec Puro
Cinematography Michael McDonough
Edited by Colleen Sharp
Production
company
BCDF Pictures
The Group Entertainment
Ruminant Films
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release dates
  • January 23, 2011 (2011-01-23) (Sundance)
  • August 26, 2011 (2011-08-26) (United States)
Running time 114 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2 million[1]
Box office $841,733[1]

Higher Ground is a 2011 American drama film directed by Vera Farmiga in her directorial debut.[2] Farmiga also stars in the film alongside Joshua Leonard, John Hawkes, Donna Murphy and Norbert Leo Butz. The film was released in the U.S. on August 26, 2011, by Sony Pictures Classics.

Plot[edit]

Corinne Walker is a young girl who is skeptical about God. After the stillbirth of her brother, her parent's marriage disintegrates over the course of several years. As a teenager (Taissa Farmiga), she meets Ethan (Boyd Holbrook), a budding musician in local rock band The Renegades. They get married after Corinne becomes pregnant, and have their daughter Abigail. While touring with Ethan's band, their bus crashes into a river. Ethan rushes to save Abby, and Corinne pleads with God to save her. Abby is pulled out of the bus before it sinks into the water, and Ethan believes that God wanted them to live. Ethan and Corinne grow more and more interested in Jesus, eventually giving themselves over to a radical New Testament church.

As adults, Corinne (Vera Farmiga) and Ethan (Joshua Leonard) are living with their children Abigail and Lilly amidst a community of self-described "Jesus freaks". Corinne's daily life consists of hours of Bible study, alternative family practices, and bracing for the oncoming Rapture. The husbands are told by Pastor Bill (Norbert Leo Butz) that they should pay more attention to their wives' sexual needs after a fellow husband's indiscretions caused his wife to leave with their children. Corinne's closest friend Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk) also warns her about keeping the marriage alive by trying new things, such as drawing their husbands penises. One day, Corinne's younger sister Wendy (Nina Arianda) shows up on her doorstep after ending yet another bad relationship. Abby and Lilly say they pray for Wendy every day since she hasn't given herself over to Jesus, and therefore, will go to hell. Their father comes over for dinner, and says that children are the most important things in life. He also takes responsibility over how losing their baby brother caused him to wreck his marriage.

When Annika attempts to teach Corinne how to drive, they get pulled over by a policeman who Annika is able to charm by pretending to have a heavy accent. She explains that knowing how to flirt is key when dealing with men. As time passes, Corinne gets pregnant again. During a group meeting, Corinne tries to express her thoughts on what they can and cannot see. She gets shut down by Pastor Bill and his wife, but they say that they know about how badly she wants to submit to God. Ethan then finds Lilly playing with cocaine that she found in Wendy's suitcase. He and Corinne flush the drugs down the toilet, and Wendy storms off. The pastor's wife tells Corinne one night that she should not wear a particular dress again since a male member of the church complimented her on it. While looking in the mirror, she then sees herself wearing sexy lingerie. Corinne soon has a baby boy named Gabe. She gets a call one day, and finds out that Annika has an inoperable brain tumor. The community prays for her, and she survives risky surgery. However, she is also mute and confined to a wheelchair. This leads Corinne to question her faith, and her overall belief in God.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

In April 2010, it was announced that Farmiga would make her directorial debut with the film.[3] Higher Ground is loosely based on the memoir This Dark World by author Carolyn S. Briggs, who then co-wrote the screenplay with Tim Metcalfe. Filming took place in June 2010 in Kingston, New York and Ellenville, New York.[4] Farmiga persuaded her sister Taissa Farmiga to portray Teenage Corinne Walker by offering her a Toyota Tacoma pickup truck as payment.[5]

Release[edit]

The film premiered on January 23, 2011, at the Sundance Film Festival, and then received a limited release in the United States by Sony Pictures Classics on August 26, 2011.[6] The film also received a limited release in Canada on September 23, 2011, and was screened at Edmonton International Film Festival on September 27, 2011. It was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 10, 2012.[7] The film was released in New Zealand on March 1, 2012, and had its television premiere in Germany and Japan on January 7, 2013 and May 1, 2013, respectively.

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Higher Ground made $21,495 in its opening weekend. The film was shown in three theaters in the U.S. for a per theater average of $7,165. The film's widest release was in 81 theaters. It made a further $820,238 in box office sales for a total domestic gross of $841,733.[1]

Critical response[edit]

Higher Ground received positive reviews from critics. The film received an 81% approval rating and was "Certified Fresh" by review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. It was also given a score of 74 out of 100 on Metacritic indicating "generally favorable reviews".[8][9] A. O. Scott of The New York Times also gave a positive review, stating: "There is something remarkable – you might even say miraculous – about the way Higher Ground makes its gentle, thoughtful way across the burned-over terrain of the American culture wars. The film, directed with disarming grace and sharp intelligence by Vera Farmiga (who also stars in it), is about the conflict between skepticism and religious faith, but it does not treat that battle as an either/or, winner-take-all proposition. Movies about belief and believers frequently succumb to woozy piety or brittle contempt, but Higher Ground belongs, along with Robert Duvall's The Apostle and Michael Tolkin's under appreciated Rapture among the elect. Focused with sympathetic intensity on the ordeal of a single soul, it illuminates, as though from within, a complex spiritual struggle. I don't mean to make it sound as if the movie, which was written by Ms. Briggs and Tim Metcalfe, were preaching or making an argument. Nor does it aim for a soft middle ground of nervous tolerance. Instead, it presents the subjective facts of Corinne's life as precisely and clearly as it can, refusing to condescend or sentimentalize anyone, and inviting you to sift through the nuances and find the answers for yourself."[10]

Roger Ebert gave the film a positive review, awarding it 3.5 stars out of 4, writing: "Vera Farmiga's Higher Ground is the life story of a woman who grows into, and out of, Christianity. It values her at every stage of that process. It never says she is making the right or wrong decision, only that what she does seems necessary at the time she does it. In a world where believers and agnostics are polarized and hold simplified ideas about each other, it takes a step back and sees faith as a series of choices that should be freely made. I would like to say Higher Ground, which marks Farmiga's directorial debut, never steps wrong in following this process, but it does. Sometimes it slips too easily into satire, but at least it's nuanced satire based on true believers who are basically nice and good people. There are no heavy-handed portraits of holy rollers here, just people whose view of the world is narrow. There are also no outsize sinners, just some gentle singer-songwriters who are too fond of pot and whose lyrics are parades of cliches."[11] David Edelstein of Vulture wrote: "Actress Vera Farmiga's directing debut, the religious drama Higher Ground, is amazingly graceful. The movie centers on Corinne (played by Farmiga), who joins and, a decade later, breaks away from a fundamentalist religious order, but the tone isn't irreverent, exactly. The movie is flushed with hope, wonder, heartbreak. In the memoir on which it's based, This Dark World, Carolyn S. Briggs (who co-wrote the screenplay with Tim Metcalfe) rejects God but can't stop longing for Him. And Farmiga frames the film version as a kind of love story, beginning with Corinne opening her eyes underwater, at the moment of her baptism, seeing men smiling down like heaven's welcoming committee. She doesn't ever want to come up for air."[12]

Accolades[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result
2011 Alliance of Women Film Journalists Best Woman Director Vera Farmiga Nominated
2011 Gotham Awards Breakthrough Director Nominated
2011 Satellite Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Nominated
2011 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize – Dramatic Nominated
2012 Artios Awards Outstanding Achievement in Casting – Low Budget Feature Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee Nominated
2012 Central Ohio Film Critics Association Best Overlooked Film Higher Ground Nominated
2012 Chlotrudis Awards Best Adapted Screenplay Carolyn S. Briggs, Tim Metcalfe Nominated

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Higher Ground". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 2, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Review: 'Higher Ground' - This portrait of a Christian community marks a startlingly bold directing debut for Vera Farmiga". Variety. January 24, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Vera Farmiga to Direct 'Higher Ground'". Slash Film. April 9, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Higher Ground (2011) - Filming Locations". IMDb. 
  5. ^ Fitzsimons, Amanda. "Taissa Farmiga on Sister Vera". TeenVogue. Retrieved September 4, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Higher Ground Trailer, News, Videos, and Reviews". ComingSoon.net. 
  7. ^ "Higher Ground DVD Release Date January 10, 2012". DVDs Release Dates. 
  8. ^ "Higher Ground". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 12, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Higher Ground Reviews". Metacritic. August 26, 2011. Retrieved September 12, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Navigating Between Faith and Skepticism". The New York Times. August 25, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Higher Ground Movie Review & Film Summary (2011)". Roger Ebert. August 31, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Movie Review: Higher Ground, Vera Farmiga's Amazingly Graceful Directorial Debut". Vulture. September 2, 2011. 

External links[edit]