Beyond The Farthest Star looks into the convoluted consequences of the life-choices of the main characters and ultimately finds beauty in the ashes...
Beyond The Farthest Star
Director: Andrew William Librizzi
Writer: Andrew William Librizzi
Stars: Renée O'Connor, Todd Terry, Cherami Leigh
Beyond the Farthest Star is the story of a dysfunctional family in the small town of Leonard, Texas and how they eventually work through a tangled web of issues and past circumstances to press the reset button on their lives. Anne Wells (Cherami Leigh) is the rebellious, smoking, dark poetry-writing, goth-imaged teenage daughter of the local pastor, who she insists on calling by his first name instead of “dad.” Pastor Adam Wells (Todd Terry) has a hard time relating to his daughter's dark leanings (“Think happy thoughts,” he keeps telling her) as well as her involvement in a rock band that practices in the garage of the church parsonage. Pastor Wells, a former child evangelist, is apparently dealing with his own issues, not the least of which is his wife, Maureen (Renée O'Connor), who seems to prefer romance novels to Bible study and has her own private stash of 'spirits.' Obviously, the past holds secrets that this family needs to deal with.
Add to our three main characters one evil senator, John Cutter (Andrew Prine), one standard-issue police chief (Barry Corbin) one 'friend from the past' (William McNamara), and a small assortment of teenage friends, along with the usual townsfolk. All of the ingredients for a soap opera are in place, and Beyond The Farthest Star is essentiallya soap opera - albeit a soap opera aiming toward a redemptive ending.
Avoiding spoilers, let me simply say that young Anne's feelings of social alienation stem from the situations surrounding her birth and a series of deceptions and poor choices in the past on the part of the adults in her life – choices and deceptions that led to the halting of Pastor Wells' path to evangelical super-stardom, not to mention the emotional isolation that seems to haunt the Wells household.
Eventually, all secrets are revealed, against the backdrop of the burning down of Wells' church's holiday manger display, threats from Senator Cutter to expose the Pastor's past, and an ultimate showdown involving Anne and key figures from her past and present. A violent crisis brings truths to light, emotional barriers are broken, and relational breakthroughs ensue.
Of course these themes and plot devices are nothing new, and melodrama - of which there is plenty – is part and parcel of faith-based cinema. The performances by the principals are good, although some of the dialog – especially on the part of Cherami Leigh – is mumbled and difficult to understand. The cinematography is fine, with most shots being well composed and thoughtfully lit. Early on in the film, the director used a choppy, rapid-cut technique in a few scenes that served no narrative or artistic purpose – the same scenes could have been continuous or maybe could have used overlapping transitions for a less jarring effect. Damon Criswell's score is a bit dreary and lifeless (although the music over the narrated ending sequence is actually quite effectively done). The theme of 'beauty for ashes' recurs several times throughout the film and hearing Crystal Lewis' self-penned version of the song (of that title) played over the credits was an unexpected treat.
Writer/director Andrew Librizzi is to be commended for depicting a Christianity that's not as clean and shiny as most faith-based films like to portray. It's not a pretty story - but reality isn't always pretty.
The film did have its share of cliché characters, and anyone under thirty will probably roll their eyes at this film's interpretation of 'goth' and the depiction of some of the town teenagers. Anne's high school teacher looks like the typical 'school marm' - and the classmate's reaction to the recitation Anne's poem (which sounds like little more than a capsule description of the scene from Alien where the creature comes bursting out of John Hurt's stomach), might cause snickers. The perpetually-angry Anne has some less than stellar dialog to deliver (“'ever think about the stars, sticks-boy?”) and some of the side-story threads get somewhat jumbled and occasionally throw the basic story a bit off-course.
Beyond The Farthest Star goes beyond the typical length for a film like this – I'd say that maybe trimming the final edit of some of the more meandering conversations that take place could get it closer to a more watchable 90 minutes. Still, the film is well made and certainly delivers its message: don't lie, don't mess with people's heads, communicate. Makes sense to me.... The 'spiritual' aspects of the story seem almost peripheral. The breakthrough doesn't happen at the front altar of the church. It's less about unbelievers becoming believers and more about how messed up Christians can get. There is ultimate redemption, reconciliation, and forgiveness, but there are also heavy prices paid along the way – a reality ignored by all too many other faith-based films.