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SIFF ADVANCE: I Am Michael - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: C+
Acting: B-
Writing: C+
Cinematography: C
Editing: B

The story of Michael Glatze, a former gay activist turned anti-gay Christian, is an undeniably fascinating one. But there are just too many things wrong with this telling of it.

The few things that actually do work in I Am Michael work in spite of everything going against it. Chief among them is Zachary Quinto as Bennett, Glatze's longtime boyfriend who then turns into an exasperated but still caring ex. Quinto elevates the rote dialogue given to him, and gives his character emotional depth not seen in his costars.

It's just too bad too many of the lines are little more than stereotypical platitudes, be they from Glatze's gay-activist days or his Christian "path." Franco delivers these lines with a forced earnestness that results in them ringing false. One could argue that he's portraying a character constantly trying to convince himself. To me, he sounds like an actor trying to sell a character's convictions, and not quite succeeding. At one point he literally says, "Don't choose hate. Choose love."

There could have been a way to tell this story while retaining sympathy for Michael, which was clearly writer-director Justin Kelly's intent -- and a noble one at that. But the script here reveals an impressive amount of research into Michael's story, but not so much into the authenticity of the religion from which his newfound convictions come.

Michael, while immersed in gay activism, starting up gay youth magazines, and even embarking on a polyamorous relationship with a younger, second man (Charlie Carver), has panic attacks that convince him he's inherited the heart condition that killed his father. While making a documentary about gay youth across America, he comes across a devout Christian who is also openly gay, opening up Michael's mind to the possibility of reconciling the two. This somehow leads to his being convinced God answered his prayers once he finally got definitive proof of not having the aforementioned heart condition.

Things progress from there, with Michael feeling less and less fulfilled by "homosexuality," as he so often puts it, as though it were a condition, and opening up to religious fulfillment. But still, his jump from gay activist to anti-gay Christian has no clear catalyst in this telling of his story. Why would he see another gay man perfectly happy to be gay and Christian, but still conclude once he decides to embrace the religion that his sexuality must be rejected? Nowhere in the script does anyone even cite the usually obsessed-over Bible verses about abomination. He's just gay one day, Christian the next, somehow also by default also anti-gay. It makes little sense.

To be fair, I should perhaps disclose not only that I am a hardline atheist myself, who as a teenager underwent a form of reparative therapy, so this story hits close to home for me, making it harder to connect with. Michael is even from Olympia, which is where I was born. (My teenage struggles were in Spokane but whatever.) That said, I also know where the religious convictions are coming from, having been brought up with them, and I Am Michael comes across more as liberal actors pretending to be conservative rather than offering an authentically conservative perspective. I'm all for sympathetic portrayals of characters with ideologies antithetical to mine, but in Michael's case there's no clear path for his attainment of said ideologies.

I Am Michael offers a story worth examining, but it gets bogged down in cinematic ineptitude: inauthentic voices; self-conscious delivery; clumsy cinematography; a distracting score with plinky piano chords. There are better ways to conscientiously avoid being emotionally manipulative with the music. And what reason is there to cut back and forth between conversing characters with their faces unnaturally far to one side of the screen?

This movie may actually be better than I am giving it credit for, due to my own issues and hangups. But in an alternate dimension there might just be a version of this movie that actually did work for me, and on every other level. Even objectively, that's just not the world we live in.

Zachary Quinto (L) and James Franco (center) are a couple at the center of an undercooked telling of a fascinating story in I AM MICHAEL.

Sorry, James Franco: we no longer believe you as twenty-something.

Overall: C+
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