Beyond the Farthest Star – Movie Review

Beyond The Farthest Star Christian Movie Review

Wow! Really, that was my honest reaction after seeing Beyond the Farthest Star. And it’s ironic because Anne, the troubled daughter of Adam, pastor of a small church in the tiny hamlet of Leonard, Texas, often uses those two words as a sarcastic mantra invoked whenever someone tells her something she does not want to hear, like when her father or her therapists encourage her to think happy thoughts. “Wow. Really?”

It’s the defense mechanism of a severely damaged young lady. Her nineteenth birthday is approaching and already, Anne (Dallas native Cherami Leigh) has experienced a lifetime of anguish. She was rescued from an earlier suicide attempt thanks to father Adam’s timely arrival on the scene and has since struggled with what is described as a “therapy-resistant” depressive condition. And she’s losing. What is wrong with her? What is causing Anne’s pain? Why is she so off-putting to everyone around her and compelled to shield her fragile psyche behind a bad attitude and “Wow. Really?”

Her dilemma is the central conflict of the plot around which all the action centers, and there is a lot of conflict in the town of Leonard and within the almost irretrievably broken lives of Anne’s family. In a heart-wrenching moment of insight, she tells potential boyfriend and cow-town rock guitarist Stephen (Tyler Corie) that it wasn’t always like this; she used to know what was beyond the farthest star. But she doesn’t anymore. She’s forgotten.

All this places a large load upon the shoulders of MS Leigh but she is more than up to the task. She perfectly captures the angst-ridden Anne, we believe her desperate need for answers, her soulful yearning for grace and when she lashes out at those who love her, who just want to help. MS Leigh is a captivatingly attractive new actress with striking features. Her fresh face is a delight to watch as she progresses through the succession of emotions Anne experiences. It would come as no surprise to see her rocket to stardom. Her performance is first class all the way and she entirely steals the show which is saying a lot considering the company with whom she is working here. The entire ensemble does a brilliant job portraying their roles, like fellow Texas-native Renee O’Connor (sidekick Gabrielle to Xena: Warrior Princess) as mother Maureen, who is similarly excellent and sympathetically believable as Anne’s guilt-tortured mother, slowly distancing herself from husband Adam via romance novels, secret drinking and attraction to a man from her past.

Todd Terry, yet another Texan, portrays Adam. Whether it was intentional or not on the part of the film-makers, it lends a note of verisimilitude that nearly the entire cast hails from the Lone Star State. Even veteran actor Barry Corbin (Urban Cowboy, Northern Exposure) who lends his memorable voice to the Sheriff, is from Lamesa. Several cast members have appeared on TV’s Friday Night Lights. Like Terry. Here he plays the aging “Miracle Boy” preacher, forced in his youth by a bullying father into the labored life of a child evangelist (“I don’t believe you, son! And the Lord doesn’t believe you!” he shouts at his trembling son after a practice sermon witnessed in flashback). As the “Miracle Boy,” Adam made the cover of national magazines and once prayed with the President in the White House. But a series of setbacks, only hinted at but including his daughter’s escalating descent into mental illness, have cost him at least one desirable posting at a church of renown and led him to question the sincerity of his faith. And so the family find themselves in Leonard. Adam senses it is his last chance to get right with God, to reclaim the love of his wife and save the soul of his ailing daughter.

At first things start off well. Just after assuming leadership of the church, Adam inspires a former table dancer to come to Jesus. That seems a positive thing. But she is the wife of retired Senator John Cutter, played by another Hollywood vet, Andrew Prine, who is not a Texan but has frequently played one on TV and in Westerns, like Texas Across The River and Chisum with John Wayne. Senator Cutter is not the least bit happy that Adam has “saved” his wife. The church’s Christmas nativity display on the grounds of the courthouse is torched. The Senator is arrested as the culprit. A Civil Liberties group becomes involved and the national media descends upon the town like turkey vultures on a dead armadillo by the side of a Farm to Market Road. From jail, the senator threatens to publicly disclose a secret from Adam’s past that, once revealed to the world, could destroy his family and does in fact lead directly to a harrowing denouement in a flea bag hotel with a deranged gunman.

Right from the start, the conflict compounds with every scene and the tension builds masterfully throughout the two-hour length of this outstanding production from Pathlight Entertainment of Dallas. The time flies by. I was surprised afterward to discover the running time of the movie. I was thoroughly engrossed from the opening to the shattering conclusion, a riveting and intense confrontation in a dingy hotel room where several of the principles and one enraged shooter come together in a memorable film moment staged and filmed as well as any action scene ever lensed. It spoils nothing to say that not everyone emerges from the room unscathed.

Everything about Beyond the Farthest Star is top notch. The performances are professional, compelling and nuanced, especially that of Cherami Leigh. The story is intense and moving though perhaps a bit heavy with Christian and political hot-button issues which are invoked to manipulate the feelings of the audience but otherwise not made much of, from separation of church and state to abortion to homosexuality. The personal troubles of Anne’s family are dire enough without bringing all the worldly topics of the day down upon them in addition but perhaps this is intentional on the part of writer/director Andrew Librizzi. After all, that is what life is like: we are surrounded by conflict in the midst of our suffering. There are no easy answers and Librizzi wisely does not offer any. He simply depicts what is. And shows us, in dramatic fashion, how one dysfunctional family and a failing community come through horrible events to a better understanding of God. It is a moving reaffirmation of faith through ordeal that had this reviewer choking back tears.

There are several standout moments. A well done nighttime semi-confrontation between Sheriff and Senator at the scene of the burned nativity highlights the virtuosity of Corbin and Prine. A flashback to Anne’s eighth birthday is enhanced by a memorable, if brief, appearance by Emily Stuhler as the young Anne. And then there is the finale in the hotel room. It’s a wow.

The music by Damon Criswell is superb. Good enough that I’m wondering if a soundtrack CD will be made available. The song over the closing credits is particularly good. And there is some nice animation under those credits.

Know that there are two shootings and a murder but Librizzi’s masterful direction never shows, only implies, the violence. There is talk about the shootings at Colombine and Virginia Tech as students at Anne’s new school in Leonard compare her Goth attire to the Colorado high school shooters but in a brilliant costuming choice, Librizzi shows us that there is more than one kind of long black coat in which a shooter may adorn himself. Know, too, that Anne is a cutter. She is so disturbed she slices her arm with a piece of broken glass in one scene and holds a flaming lighter to her skin two others times. No burns are shown and the scenes are not gory. Language is gritty but not out of hand. There is a good bit of verbal abuse – one character constantly addresses Anne as “Freak” and she often calls Stephen “Sticks-boy” which isn’t necessarily abusive but is certainly not nice the way she does it. There is also physical abuse as the father of one of the boys beats him (mostly off-screen but it is depicted once). And there is a little bit of drinking.

An excellent topic for discussion is “How does one maintain faith in times of extreme duress?” There are many, many lessons from scripture, from Job to Daniel as well as many others, which offer examples of hardships others have endured and how well they did or did not handle their situations. Perhaps, from those passages, we too can discover wisdom.

Isaiah 61:3 is referenced in the film and fits the story perfectly: and provide for those who grieve in Zion to bestow on them a crown of beautyinstead of ashes,the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praiseinstead of a spirit of despair. These lines speak encouragement directly to all who are buffeted by the world, who find faith difficult to maintain in times of trial, who question, who seek and who despair. From the ashes (in this case the burned nativity display but applicable symbolically to so much more), the Lord will bring forth beauty. A wonderful lesson. It is used brilliantly in the film.

From Psalm 32: 7 come these words of hope: You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. A song is paramount in the film. Adam wants Anne to sing a particular hymn at a church function but she keeps dropping the hymnal in the trash. He retrieves it and returns it to her several times. At movie’s end the song reveals what it is all about in a supremely moving scene that caps the entire story and had me nearly sobbing. And that is why I highly recommend you see this movie. At the end, I think, like me, you too will say, “Wow!” Really.

You can learn more about Beyond the Farthest Star and find out about tickets here:

You can also follow them on Facebook here: Beyond the Farthest Star


  • Nancy Stafford

    WOW! Beautiful review Dave–I cannot wait to see this film. Thank you!