Metascore
74

Generally favorable reviews - based on 34 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 29 out of 34
  2. Negative: 1 out of 34
  1. Reviewed by: Joshua Rothkopf
    Aug 24, 2011
    100
    Funny and heartbreaking, this is a movie that would have made the '80s-era Jonathan Demme, attuned to American anxieties, blush with pride.
  2. Reviewed by: Robert Abele
    Aug 25, 2011
    90
    The same intelligence, wit and mature spirit that actress Vera Farmiga brings to her performances is richly apparent in her directorial debut as well, the inquisitive spiritual drama Higher Ground.
  3. Reviewed by: Jeannette Catsoulis
    Aug 25, 2011
    90
    What follows is something rarely seen in American movies: a sincerely humane examination of what it means to experience a crisis of faith. Tender, bittersweet and often gently comedic, Corinne's 20-year journey toward (and around, and away from) her God has a loose, searching rhythm that's engrossingly unpredictable.
  4. Reviewed by: Carrie Rickey
    Sep 15, 2011
    88
    Corinne's journey begins with an act of blind faith. The movie ends, but you have a palpable sense that the journey does not.
  5. Reviewed by: Michael Phillips
    Sep 1, 2011
    88
    Farmiga's film doesn't state things directly, but we sense what is happening to Corinne, and how some turn to fundamentalism for complex and interconnected reasons.
  6. Reviewed by: Roger Ebert
    Aug 31, 2011
    88
    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.
  7. Reviewed by: Peter Travers
    Aug 25, 2011
    88
    Farmiga expertly guides a large and gifted ensemble cast and proves as fearless a director as she is an actress. She lights up Higher Ground and makes it funny, touching and vital.
  8. Reviewed by: Marc Mohan
    Sep 10, 2011
    83
    Ultimately, though, this is a story about a conflicted, intelligent, flawed, moral woman making her way through her life.
  9. Reviewed by: Owen Gleiberman
    Aug 24, 2011
    83
    Higher Ground breaks crucial, sacred ground in American moviemaking.
  10. Reviewed by: Elizabeth Weitzman
    Aug 26, 2011
    80
    This would be tricky territory for the most experienced director, but I can't remember the last time I saw organized religion handled in such an even-handed, thoughtful manner.
  11. Reviewed by: A.O. Scott
    Aug 25, 2011
    80
    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.
  12. Reviewed by: Richard Corliss
    Aug 25, 2011
    80
    As director, Farmiga is a strong believer in cinematic democracy, allowing the other actors to seize the center of the action and the frame.
  13. Reviewed by: Michelle Orange
    Aug 25, 2011
    80
    Farmiga closes in on moments that express mood and character so lightly and perceptively that you don't notice them gently - sometimes too gently - moving the story forward.
  14. Reviewed by: Justin Chang
    Aug 20, 2011
    80
    A satirical yet sensitive portrait of life in an evangelical Christian community, Higher Ground marks a startlingly bold directing debut for actress Vera Farmiga.
  15. Reviewed by: Kirk Honeycutt
    Aug 20, 2011
    80
    The film is a deft, graceful and often poignant story of a woman's quest to find her own identity and a spiritual sanctuary that will give her life hope and meaning.
  16. Reviewed by: Mike Scott
    Oct 14, 2011
    75
    It also is a film that does the impossible: It lubes its audiences' mental gears and sets them to spinning without insulting anyone and without issuing threats of eternal damnation. Subtlety, thy name is Vera. Can I get an "amen"?
  17. Reviewed by: Steve Persall
    Sep 28, 2011
    75
    It's a quiet story, without many emotional outbursts and no villains. Parts of Higher Ground are dull, honestly. But the movie always feels honest about its subject.
  18. Reviewed by: Rick Groen
    Sep 22, 2011
    75
    The film's quiet realism demands from us our own act of faith: We're asked to watch closely and to listen intently in the promise of a greater reward to come. Well, the promise is partly kept.
  19. Reviewed by: Calvin Wilson
    Sep 16, 2011
    75
    This film might easily have settled for mocking religion. Instead, it's a fascinating glimpse into a culture that forces some people to choose between fitting in and opting out.
  20. Reviewed by: Connie Ogle
    Sep 8, 2011
    75
    Higher Ground is ultimately a proponent of the human spirit, of the individuality and honesty that must be claimed, even at a high price. That's a lot of substance to stuff into one little movie, but Farmiga makes it fit astonishingly well.
  21. Reviewed by: Roger Moore
    Sep 8, 2011
    75
    Farmiga directs and plays this as a woman with questions. Thus, the tone is a bit all over the place - frank discussion and depictions of sex, but with an equally frank embrace of Christianity, talking the talk and walking the walk.
  22. Reviewed by: Mick LaSalle
    Sep 1, 2011
    75
    The problem is that the story, as constituted, is of necessity against organized religion, but Farmiga, as director, pretends that it's ambiguous. So you get a movie slightly at cross-purposes with itself.
  23. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Aug 25, 2011
    75
    Farmiga never seems to strike a false note in any role, but this is perhaps her most reflective and multi-layered performance.
  24. Reviewed by: Eric Kohn
    Aug 24, 2011
    75
    An earnest, sometimes bland and unsophisticated look at Corinne's undulating relationship to spirituality in general and Christian dogma in particular. But it's also a surprisingly well-made character study outside of its specific theme.
  25. Reviewed by: Andrea Gronvall
    Sep 1, 2011
    70
    The movie, to its credit, recognizes that the quest for spirituality sometimes leads to another pew.
  26. Reviewed by: Anthony Lane
    Aug 22, 2011
    70
    You could argue that the film is too wrenching a departure for an actress as earthy as Farmiga, but that, I suspect, is why she took the risk - daring herself, in the person of Corinne, to slip the surly bonds of beauty and desire.
  27. Reviewed by: Marjorie Baumgarten
    Sep 8, 2011
    67
    Higher Ground may not be a true revelation, but it does show a viable path an actor might take to shape intelligent material on her own terms.
  28. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    Sep 8, 2011
    63
    The end result's a muddle and a good argument for why actors shouldn't direct themselves first time out. Farmiga's a generous and observant performer, but she lacks a shaping hand, not to mention the ruthlessness that's probably a necessity for any director.
  29. Reviewed by: Lou Lumenick
    Aug 26, 2011
    63
    Spanning two decades in a little under two hours, Higher Ground is a well-acted if slow-moving drama that will reward adventurous audiences with fine performances and a thoughtful approach.
  30. Reviewed by: Peter Rainer
    Aug 26, 2011
    58
    One of the few open-minded Hollywood movies about Christian fundamentalism, but the mind isn't sufficiently exploratory.
  31. Reviewed by: Tasha Robinson
    Aug 24, 2011
    58
    At times, Higher Ground feels like a lower-stakes "Welcome To The Dollhouse" for adults: It's a systematically built portrait of disappointment and despair, centering on a perpetual underdog looking for affection and surety in any possible form. But while Higher Ground is less painful than Dollhouse, it's also less passionate.
  32. Reviewed by: Melissa Anderson
    Aug 23, 2011
    50
    Even with her beatific face (the actress looks like one of Parmigianino's Madonnas), Farmiga is never wholly believable as a woman shaken by a crisis of belief.
  33. Reviewed by: Ray Greene
    Aug 20, 2011
    50
    Higher Ground is a weird film with some very nice moments, but its odd and offbeat combination of comic touches, serious spiritual subject matter and occasional surrealist interludes never quiet gels.
  34. Reviewed by: Bill Weber
    Aug 22, 2011
    25
    Lacking both spiritual and narrative spark, Vera Farmiga's directorial debut suffers from her flat performance and a moribund, weirdly sex-joke-spiked narrative.
User Score
7.2

Generally favorable reviews- based on 20 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 6 out of 8
  2. Negative: 0 out of 8
  1. Nov 13, 2011
    10
    "Jesus Camp", the 2006 film that profiles Becky Fischer, the controversial, and to some, downright dangerous pastor who runs the Kids on Fire Ministry, is needlessly didactic in its filmic approach. Easily identifiable as a cult, the filmmakers, nevertheless, reiterates this empirical truth with blunt force by framing the movie's narrative surrounding the youth-targeted, hyper-ideological church's rightist rhetoric(smells like child abuse) around a liberal talk show host ranting from his soapbox on how the evangelicals seem to be wrong about almost everything. Viewers, reasonable viewers, that is, with eyes and ears, can make that determination for themselves, minus the liberalist nudging. Every year, the pastor's young flock meets up at Devil's Lake, a politically-minded indoctrination camp masquerading as a holy place for praising god in North Dakota, where the conservative agenda gets programmed into these moldable minds without apology. Blinded by her own zealotry, the pastor can't see the lunacy behind the notion of using children as pro-life activists, when the filmmakers show Fischer the raw footage of an anti-abortionist, creepily handing out fetus replicas for the children to hold and opine upon. For a split second, we think she'll see daylight. But alas, no. "Extreme liberals," she spews, with unchecked ego and hubris, "they have to look at this and start shaking in their boots," oblivious to the fact that it's not just liberals, but apolitical Christians, too, who may find her approach disturbing. After all, higher ground is hardly what Fischer and her kind are reaching for, but rather, it's a ground beneath the clouds, not above; it's federal ground, where politicians, not carpenters walk. To paraphrase Belinda Carlisle, government is a place on earth. Unlike "Jesus Camp", which is marred by the filmmakers' subjective approach, therefore creating a dialectic which ends up overstating the case that parents shouldn't push their children into rote worship of THEIR god, "Higher Ground" gives you the freedom to make up your own mind about the Christian world. That's because the director, a self-described liberal secularist, isn't a conservative-bashing ideologue. Unlike the alternative cinema presented by theological filmmakers, "Higher Ground" doesn't spoonfeed the gospel; it subverts the shopworn trope of a parishoner who loses his/her faith by keeping the lost soul lost to the bitter end. Without overselling the point, and without judgment, Farmiga too, shows us how children have no choice in matters concerning god, as we catch up with a young Corrine in midstream of her religious training at a Protestant church, where during a Sunday school lesson, Pastor Bud asks his kids if they want to go to heaven. It's practically a rhetorical question, a veiled threat, since the alternative, hell, isn't Corrine's idea of a good time, so she raises her hand and makes a covenant with god. It's the spiritual awakening that the mother always wanted for her girl, but a miscarriage performed the effect of secularizing this former magical thinking woman, who prior to her faith-shaking tragedy, would have been delighted that Corrine got saved. Alas, she receives the "good news" from the pastor with complete indifference. Like the protagonist in "Secret Sunshine", another grieving mother with an axe to grind against god, Kathleen seduces the pastor(the pianist goes further with her pious target), since the lord is unavailable for prurient temptation. In the Lee Chang-dong film, a celluloidal sister to "Higher Ground", the Korean mom, whose son is murdered after she fails to pay the ransom set by his kidnapper in full, drinks the kool-aid that Christians serve; the self-delusional prattling that mystifies non-believers, for instance, the pragmatist in "Rabbit Hole", who figures out that making a new angel is a far better plan than the tragedian one that god has in store for us. The mom starts to gag on the kool-aid, following a visit with her child's murderer in prison, and experiences first-hand, the lunacy of Christian dogma, which allows any sin to be forgiven, even murder, as long as you tell god you love him. (Respect Mimi Rodgers' decision in "The Rapture".) The anesthetized woman is shocked to learn that the killer prays for her. Like mother, like daughter, in "Higher Ground", the Stepford wife loses her conviction in the sacrosanct word after Annika, a good friend, stops speaking in tongues, and then stops speaking altogether, when brain tumor silences Corrine's true soulmate. She finds no grace from suffering. It doesn't make Corrine a heretic; it makes her human. Down deep inside, Corrine knows that god is a lie, but you can tell, just by looking at her face as she walks out of the church for the final time, that her feminism and intelligence are cold comforts in comparison to the warm embrace of subjugation in the patriarchal order of Christianity. Full Review »
  2. Oct 2, 2011
    6
    This drama begins with the protagonist as a young girl who finds Christ at church. As she grows, she becomes a woman (Vera Farmiga), who struggles with her faith in a small community of conservatives that first look like hippies. As director, Vera Farmiga has filled her cast with effective, genuine performances and the story is an intelligent examination. However, there's a lack of emotional dynamics that renders the film lacking in soul. Interesting, but somewhat flat. Full Review »
  3. Jan 26, 2012
    4
    Is this supposed to be a serious film, a mockumentary or a comedy? Ms Farmiga has many one-liners delivered like a comedian. Extremist religion, no matter the faith is disturbing. How can so many not believe science, not believe facts, and not believe their feelings? Falling back on the common thread that an invisible, fictional, being up in the clouds determines their life. Corinne ignores everything that makes any sense, her feelings, the facts before her eyes and why? Religion will tell me it's their faith. It's actually peer pressure. It is hard to stand up to all around you and ask questions. Teach your children to question authority. No more just accepting on faith. Do you accept priest sex abuse? If a reason is not available, don't accept on faith or deny because their are no facts; go out and seek the truth! It took way to long, almost 2 hours, for Corinne to act. Thank G, well whomever, she did. There may be those who give this film high marks, perhaps because it points out the hypocrisy of religion, but it was evident early in the film, and I could not for the life of me see why Corinne didn't get it. If looked at as a satire, it's not close to Religiousity, maybe it deserves higher marks. But if it's serious, C- or 4 is barely what it deserves. Full Review »