I Am Michael

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The controversial true story of a gay activist who rejects his homosexuality and becomes a Christian pastor.
"There is too much of the ring of the academic argument and, especially for a film so concerned with the spiritual, not quite enough soul."

Justin Kelly's debut feature is the sort of film that, were it not based on a true story, would find credibility making its excuses and leaving the building at great speed. But the tale of Michael Glatze - adapted here from Benoit Denizet Lewis's New York Times article My Ex-Gay Friend (read it here) - is the sort of thing that proves fact can be stranger than fiction.

Kelly steals his own thunder somewhat by beginning at the end of his story - or, at least, close to the end of the story to date - with Michael (James Franco) giving pastoral care to a young gay man and telling him, "Gay doesn't exist, it's a false identity." It's a scene we've seen plenty of times before, but this comes with a twist when we flashback to 1998 and rediscover Michael as he was then, a dyed blond openly gay man in San Francisco with views just as strident - though utterly opposed - to those he would later go on to espouse.

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From here on in, we track Michael forwards from his time as the out-and-proud voice for gay youth through popular - and practical - magazine XY and long-time other half of Bennett (Zachary Quinto). Kelly paints him as hedonistic, with his relationship with Bennett quickly making room for a third bed-fellow Tyler (Charlie Carver). But he is also shown as a man of reading, who thinks deeply about the way homosexuality is presented in the world. It soon becomes clear that Michael wants to be the voice of change, to drive gay youth forward in terms of 'terminology' so that they adjust the way they are defined. It is that sense of self-identity and definition on which the film hinges, as gradually through a health scare and a number of baby steps, Michael finds himself not so much going back into the closet as denying that the closet has ever existed in the first place.

Franco, who is not always known for his subtle portrayals, puts in a seriously good day at the office. He brings a depth to Michael and despite communication difficulties thanks to the man's introspection, gives an insight into the his shifting convictions. The strong focus on Michael, however, becomes a problem in terms of engagement with the story. The subsidiary characters, such as Bennett, flutter around him but are never allowed to show themselves to the same degree, while the shifting geography of the film adds to the sense of fragmentation.

With Michael's inner debate largely revealed through voiced blog posts, there is a feeling that we are being told what has happened after the fact - not unlike reading that New York Times article, in fact - rather than actively engaging with the evolution of the situation. Despite good intentions and excellent performances, there is too much of the ring of the academic argument and, especially for a film so concerned with the spiritual, not quite enough soul.

Reviewed on: 05 Feb 2015
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The controversial true story of a gay activist who rejects his homosexuality and becomes a Christian pastor.


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