Sundance 2015 Review: I am Michael

To say that I am Michael is entering somewhat controversial and polarizing waters given its subject – the story of Michael Glatze, once an ardent gay rights activist, who shocked all of those around him when he declares himself no longer homosexual and becomes an anti-gay Christian pastor.

The film, based on a New York Times article “My Ex-Gay Friend” by Benoit Denizet Lewis, is the first-time feature of screenwriter/director Justin Kelly.

Spanning over a decade, we first see Michael (James Franco), as an outspoken gay rights activist who uses his voice to reach out to the gay youth.

Actually, this statement above is not wholly true, because when the film starts, we see the Michael of the present. How does that work, you may ask? Well you see, the film is very fluid with the linearity of the narrative. We start in the present, then shift to the past, eventually catching up with the present and moving forward to a very interesting denouement, with, if you can imagine, a bit of a “cliffhanger” – I really cannot think of a better word for it.

But I digress – back to the story …

After a health scare, Michael begins to question the role of faith in his life. He then goes on a spiritual quest, which for him, ends (or begins?) with his renunciation of his homosexuality. The rest of the film deals with the fallout of his declaration has on himself and those around him.

I Am Michael does try in earnest to play the story straight down the middle, leaving its protagonists to present both sides of the argument – fair enough. And I would say that if there is a shortcoming of the film it is just that – the presentation does not feel the most organic. In some ways, while the story is very compelling, the way it is presented here makes it sometimes feel like it would be better served in the documentary format. In fact, in preparation for the film, director Kelly spent time with Glatze. How much that contributed to the final product I am not too sure, but I would be a bit interested to know.

The film holds interest for me because of its handling of the role and influence faith and religion in each of our lives.

For me, the film’s accessibility hangs on James Franco’s performance, which I feel is certainly worthy of your attention here. The supporting cast, notably Zachary Quinto as Michael’s ex-boyfriend Bennett deliver solid performances, when they are given something to do.

I Am Michael is executive produced by Gus Van Sant. In addition to Sundance, the film screened most recently at the Berlin Film Festival.

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Image Credit: JAZO PR

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