By Megan Wadding, February 2017 Issue. Back to Echo’s Desperado 2017 coverage.
The opening shots of Fair Haven reveal the stunning Vermont countryside. Here we’re introduced to James Grant (Michael Grant), who we later learn is returning home to his family’s apple orchard after a long stay in ex-gay conversion therapy.
James’ widowed father (Tom Wopat), who is never openly homophobic, seems loving as he shows great interest in his son’s future, and is particularly concerned with what he believes is James’ inherited obligation to someday also run the farm.
After James’ father reveals that he spent his son’s college fund on his wife’s (James’ mother’s) funeral and other expenses, the talented young pianist dismisses his dream of studying music in Boston in favor of agreeing to help his father with the farm and enrolling in a community college.
It’s not long before James crosses paths with his former boyfriend, Charlie (Josh Green), as he is delivering apples to the small market where Charlie works. The chance encounter leads James to doubt if he is truly “cured” of his gayness, which is demonstrated through his attitude and slight aggression toward Charlie.
From there, we observe James’ struggle to be straight as he goes on a couple of awkward dates with the local pastor’s sweet, young daughter, Suzy (Lily Anne Harrison), which turns out heartbreakingly disastrous for her.
Viewers are able to feel James’ internal conflict through beautiful overhead shots of him lying in his bed punctuated by a series of perfectly timed and smoothly sequenced flashbacks of his ex-gay conversion therapy, which serve as the missing puzzle pieces that explain why things turned out as they did for all characters involved and also help maintain the pace of the story.
Although we never get much of backstory on the relationship between James and Charlie, except for a glimpse of some photos found in a shoe box, it becomes glaringly obvious that both boys still have feelings for the other.
As James struggles to come to terms with the fact that he is still gay, he also attempts to fight off his attraction for Charlie, although that is very short-lived. After an incident, James offers to begin taking Charlie home after work. This turn of events is the catalyst for the boys becoming close again.
Having a tough time trying to keep his two emerging lives separate, everything eventually comes crashing down on James, leaving him with a tough decision to make.
Grant (“The Secret Life of the American Teenager”) is extremely expressive in this role, which allows him to convey emotion perfectly, even in scenes without much dialogue. He also does broody quite well, which we see throughout most of the film. His dialogue sometimes comes out stilted or unsure, but his emotional performance makes up for it.
Cinematographer Jason Beasley gives viewers a palpable feel for how remote this town is through landscape shots of the orchard and the surrounding countryside. The dialogue is not always smooth and sometimes seems out of place, but the music makes up for it, with the original score by Christopher Farrell enhancing the many emotional scenes. We also get to see James, an aspiring pianist, play a song at the end of the film.
Directed by Kerstin Karlhuber and co-written by Karlhuber and Jack Bryant, Fair Haven is a fascinating and heartfelt story – not only for the rare glimpse into the life after ex-gay conversion therapy that it offers, but also because we rarely get to see a positive ending for an LGBTQ child from a small town with deeply conservative and religious parents. While these circumstances are not often portrayed in film, they are a reality for so many members of our community.
Fair Haven screens at 6 p.m. Jan. 29. For more information, visit desperadofilmfestival.com/event/fair-haven.