Higher Ground



Moving drama about faith and doubt dares to be smart.
  • Review Date: August 26, 2011
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 109 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The movie is an earnest, honest examination of faith and how different people form their beliefs and handle the struggle to remain faithful in the face of doubts.

Positive role models

Corinne is an impressively multi-dimensional character. She's religious, caring, inquisitive, supportive, questioning, and smart. And she embarks on her journey of understanding with great excitement, pain, and confusion. Everyone else is in the movie is very human, too.


A car crash puts a child's life in peril. A married couple fights; once, it gets ugly, with the man nearly choking the woman. Another couple screams at each other within earshot of their kids.


Teens are shown making out and seemingly having sex (viewers mostly hear grunts and hints of movement; there's no nudity). A married woman flirts with men who aren't her husband. A group of men discusses how to pleasure their wives; parts of the vagina are mentioned. Two women draw their husband's penises on paper.


Infrequent use of "damn," "piss," "ass," "s--t" and "f--k." A character gives another the finger.


Bulova, Miracle Whip, and Egg McMuffin are mentioned.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A woman is found to have cocaine in her luggage, which a child discovers and plays with.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this affecting, complex drama depicts a faithful woman struggling to reconcile her doubts with her religious beliefs. It's a bracingly honest portrayal that doesn't buy into the typical stereotypes of either the pious or the questioning. The lead character starts her relationship with God in earnest as a teen mom; the road that leads her there is revealed straightforwardly: She's shown having premarital sex (though there's no nudity) and struggling to understand the adults around her, many of whom have lost their moorings themselves. These are heavy themes, which -- along with the movie's sexual content (in addition to teens having sex, characters also frankly discuss body parts and how to pleasure the opposite sex) and swearing -- makes it a better fit for older viewers.

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What's the story?

As a teenager, Corinne finds religion after she and her young husband, wannabe rock star Ethan, nearly lose their child in a car crash. Her love of Jesus takes precedence over her love of books -- and nearly everything else. As a grown woman (Vera Farmiga), Corinne becomes one of the most active and beloved members of her evangelical church. Ethan (Joshua Leonard), too, takes a leadership role, playing his guitar and ministering to others. Corinne's love for the Lord is unshakeable. But her faith isn't, especially as she tries to understand the doubts that creep in when the church's chauvinistic ways assert themselves and when her best friend, Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk), is irrevocably damaged after illness and surgery. Meanwhile, Corinne opens her eyes not just to her dissatisfaction with church dogma but also to her marriage's weaknesses. How can she reconcile it all?

Is it any good?


Farmgia is enormously talented, both as a director and an actress. Her Corinne is bedazzling; anytime she's onscreen, she owns it. Her expressions are never boring, often unexpected, and as authentic as you can get in a movie. Her vision as a director is impressive, too: She doesn't go for shortcuts, doesn't push one agenda over another, and seems genuinely interested in crafting a movie that asks bold questions -- and boldly attempts to make sense of them. Stereotypes are shaken, faith is embraced (without irony), and a woman struggles to balance her steadfast belief in God with her burgeoning skepticism.


The movie -- which was based on a memoir by Carolyn Briggs -- even has loads to say about female friendships and what makes some tick. Though some key scenes feel a little overcooked -- one or two of the prayer meetings border on caricature -- they are few and far between. HIGHER GROUND often takes the titular higher ground, and the movie is the better for it.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how the movie depicts Corinne and her faith. How does she compare to other religious/spiritual characters you've seen in other movies/TV shows?

  • How does the movie tackle the complex topics of Christianity, religion, and faith? How does it compare to other movies that have examined the same subjects?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 26, 2011
DVD release date:January 10, 2012
Cast:Donna Murphy, Joshua Leonard, Vera Farmiga
Director:Vera Farmiga
Studio:Sony Pictures Classics
Run time:109 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:some language and sexual content

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written bylittlemonster98 January 14, 2012

First reviewer!!! Grat movie!

Very positive role models and messages! Sex and language is an issue though....you decide. if you think your teens are mature enough to handle it, then I think this is an excelent choice for movie night!
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing


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