(2016, 90 min)
Country: U. S.
Director: Kerstin Karlhuber
Studio: Breaking Glass Pictures
After a long stay in ex-gay conversion therapy, James (Michael Grant), a young piano
prodigy, returns home to his family farm and his emotionally distant father, Richard
(Tom Wopat). After Richard pressures James to give up his music career and take over
the farm, James agrees as a way to make up for his past. Soon, however, James finds
himself face-to-face with a former lover, Charlie (Josh Green), who wants to help
him turn away from his new beliefs and family expectations, and follow his dreams of
"Fair Haven" is a thoroughly engaging movie that tackles a difficult topic (the
devastating impact of “reparative” therapy) with a surprisingly light hand and admirable
subtlety. The film tells the story of James Grant (Michael Grant), a promising young
pianist who has been sent to reparative therapy by his concerned conservative parents.
He returns home to work in the family apple orchard run by his gruff father Richard
(Tom Wopat) and starts dating Suzy Thomas (Lily Anne Harrison), the preacher’s daughter.
An unexpected and unwelcome encounter with his ex-boyfriend Charlie (Josh Green)
forces him to reassess his dreams and desires.
Director Kerstin Karlhuber handles her first feature-length narrative film with
considerable assurance. Her sense of timing is confident and firm. The deeply emotional
story is given room to breathe and unfold at its own pace. Several wordless sequences
are beautiful duets between the director and her actors, allowing the characters (and
the audience) to sort out their conflicted feelings.
Her visual style is also compelling. Working with cinematographer Jason Beasley,
Karlhuber captures both the lush beauty of the Vermont countryside and the cramped
confines of small town rural life. The recurring overhead shots of James in his
childhood bedroom, for example, help to define the character and give the film momentum.
The script by Jack Bryant is generally strong. Bryant and Karlhuber wisely show James’
conversion therapy sessions in a series of flashbacks. This shows how the lingering
effects of the deep psychic trauma inflicted on the young man continue to haunt him
while allowing the present-day story to move along more quickly. The dialogue is
natural and unforced and captures the rhythms of New England speech well.
Unfortunately, the resolution, while ultimately believable, comes a little quickly.
While the scenes of Richard wandering the orchard by himself and James sitting alone
in a pasture are lovely, more dialogue would make the final scenes flow more smoothly.
Likewise, the backstory is not entirely clear. James’ relationship with his late mother
is not well-defined and the sequence of events before and after his involuntary
commitment is confusing. Likewise, the original music by Christopher Farrell often
doesn’t seem to match the mood of the scenes or the personality of the characters.
Despite these challenges, Karlhuber gets strong performances from her lead actors.
Tom Wopat’s stern performance may be a revelation to fans who remember him as Luke
Duke or know him as a suave singer. Wopat sympathetically captures a laconic New
England farmer unsure of how to handle rapidly changing circumstances. He also sings
on the soundtrack during the final credits. In a similar manner, television and
theatre actor Gregory Harrison is calmly effective as the sincere (and sincerely
homophobic) doctor who tries to return James to the straight and narrow based on a
very narrow reading of the Bible.
Michael Grant, who already has a string of impressive credits, turns in a strong
performance as the troubled teenager. He is also, apparently, a talented pianist who
performs his own keyboard work. Green and Harrison are both fine as unintentional
rivals for James’ affections.
"Fair Haven" is a moving film that deserves great success on the LGBT festival circuit
and in theaters after its world premiere here in D.C. Director Kerstin Karlhuber and
her cast and crew tell a timely tale with appropriate style and simple grace.
-- Brian T. Carney, The Washington Blade (http://www.washingtonblade.com/)