What sounds like a more interesting film: one in which a legendary Chilean poet evades the law and narrowly escapes the cops or one about a man who moves to Canada and leans into Christian fundamentalism? Subjectivity aside, the latter also features Zachary Quinto’s excellent eyebrow acting and the approach of a Lifetime movie to its subject matter. And honestly, a film earns a lot of credit from me when it avoids heavy-handed narration.
I Am Michael
The story of a gay activist who ultimately rejects his sexuality in favor of Christianity.
“If you’re a moral person, you’ll choose to be straight.” Not exactly the opener you’d expect for a film about a gay activist. Except this activist is Michael Glatze, a man who edited a gay magazine in San Francisco before renouncing his sexuality in favor of Christianity. That’s a lot to process, no? Let’s back up a few years.
Before coming out as straight, Michael (played by James Franco) was in a serious relationship with love of my life
Spock Zachary Quinto Bennett. Michael is very much part of the gay community: attending all-night raves, mourning traumatic events including the murder of Matthew Shepard.
When Bennett gets a job in Halifax, Michael’s life changes dramatically. Instead of dedicating his time to the magazine, he gives talks to local schools, writes a lot of blog content, and eventually begins working in a soul-crushing office job.
After a year passes, Michael doesn’t feel any better adjusted to his new life. When he fights with Bennett, Michael goes off in search of dudes, and picks up a cute young guy named Tyler. Michael and Bennett begin an open relationship with Tyler, eventually traveling across the country with him to complete a documentary.
While filming the documentary about queer youth in the U.S., the three encounter a gay student at Liberty University (I’m sorry, but gross gross gross gross gross; I’m so creeped out by Liberty). Though he identifies as gay, the student embraces his Christian identity and begins praying with his troubled friend.
Michael begins to wonder if he can have it all, identifying as both a gay man and a Christian. However, he opts for living quietly with his doubts, going to church and reading the Bible in secret.
Meanwhile, Michael becomes increasingly preoccupied with his mortality and fears above all that the afterlife is just nothingness. After a panic attack, he becomes convinced he has the heart condition that killed his father.
When he insists there’s a lot of love in the Bible, Michael earns some eyebrow raises from Bennett and Tyler. He explores the Mormon church and Buddhism, drawn to their clear visions of the afterlife and potential to solve his so-called homosexual problem. After moving out, he claims he is no longer gay.
What’s up with that?
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
There’s something about this film that stays with me. It may not be brilliant, but Zachary Quinto is great as ever and even James Franco gives a decent performance. Possibly because he plays a character who’s a bit of an asshole?
It makes me sad that Michael broke Bennett’s heart, and it’s disturbing to think about the number of people who still have to lie about who they are in order to have the job and life they want. To be clear: I do not sympathize with people who claim they’re persecuted for their Christian beliefs in predominantly Christian nations. It’s also troubling how Michael buys into the false dichotomy of being part of gay culture or living as the squarest straight dude alive. I like to think we’re getting better at recognizing the many different ways to identify as LGBTQ, but clearly we still have a long way to go.
Narratively, I wish we’d spent a little more time on the impact of Michael’s actions on Bennett and the gay community as a whole. I don’t really care if someone’s sexual orientation changes (though obv the idea that you can choose this is problematic AF), but the really shitty thing Michael did was perpetuate a horrible culture that tells young people their sexuality is a sin to be corrected. I also feel we could use some more insight into Michael’s interiority while recognizing that I don’t ever want to know what’s really going on inside this guy’s head.
The only thing certain is that blonde James Franco is the douchiest James Franco.