I Am Michael (2015) | FLARE London LGBT Film Festival 2015

March 20th, 2015
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Justin Kelly

Writer: Justin Kelly |

Cast: James Franco, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Carver, Emma Roberts, Daryl Hannah, Avan Jogia

98min  US   Drama Biopic

The ubiquitous James Franco is either behind the camera or in front of it these days, playing both gay and straight roles and in  I AM MICHAEL he does both with this inspired foray into the life Michael Glatze, a gay magazine editor who becomes heterosexual after finding God, and transforming into a Christian pastor with unsettling undertones.

Gus Van Sant has financed the debut feature from writer-director Justin Kelly, which is based on a real-life story with  Zachary Quinto and Emma Roberts lending able support as his boyfriend and subsequent fiancée. This is not a straightforward film but one that offers much food for thought in a nuanced and cleverly-scripted narrative (based partly on a New York Times article about Glatze’s life) that  insightfully explores the nature of sexuality, love and belief.

The story opens as Glatze (James Franco) is editor of a gay magazine in late nineties San Francisco and happily involved with lover Bennett (Zachary Quinto), who persuades him to move to Canada so he can take up an important post in Architecture. The relationship with Bennett is natural and totally convincing and both actors seem entirely at one in their performances. But Glatze is jobless and soon bored with the life in Nova Scotia, despite meeting Tyler (Charlie Carver) who adds spice to the couple’s love life and is soon sharing their bed. Glatze launches a new magazine aimed at the ‘coming out’ market whose sexual beliefs are being compromised or constrained by their religious beliefs, and the trio start shooting a documentary entitled Jim in Bold. At this point, we’re persuaded that Glatze’s real raison d’être is to help humanity. James Franco’s forceful presence and hard-eyed gaze melts, on occasion, and particularly when Glatze comes across Jacob Loeb.

But the emergence of regular panic attacks seem to indicate that he’s not happy with his life or his relationship, and these also stem from the fear of a heart condition that cut short his father’s life as a young man. His close relationship with his mother is also a motif running through the film, and he regularly visits her resting place to reinforce his convictions and reminisce. transformation is fleshed out on a blog with voiceover describing his religious zeal. Unable to see himself or his ambitions clearly, Glatze emerges a troubled and confused soul and, while Kelly in no way seeks to condemn or judge him, James Franco reflects this accurately and powerfully in a performance that’s both compelling and subtle but also indicates the presence of a mild personality disorder – it’s a tremendously difficult role which Franco pulls off with remarkable aplomb. After a Buddhist retreat in Wyoming where he meets the gentle Nico (a fine turn from Avan Jogia) he ends up in Bible School where he falls in love with Rebekah Fuller (Emma Roberts) a naive yet appealing young Christian girl.

Christopher Blauvelt’s camerawork is competent on both the widescreen and on more intimate moments but the score occasionally overdoes it, producing an intrusiveness that makes contemplation impossible – and there is a great deal to take in and process in Glatze’s transformation. By the end though, we are more than convinced that this man has by no means found his way in life and those who stray onto his complicated path will continue to find themselves in emotional danger. MT

I AM MICHAEL HEADLINES THIS YEAR’S BFI FLARE LONDON LGBT FILM FESTIVAL FROM 19 – 29 MARCH 2015 AT BFI SOUTHBANK, LONDON SE1. REVIEWED DURING BERLINALE 2015

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