Based on a true story, Michael Glatze (James Franco) is a gay activist, a writer for a popular queer men’s magazine, and one half of a couple passionately in love. Yet in ten years’ time, Michael will have publicly denounced the LGBTQ community, “turned” straight, and married a woman. How on earth did this happen?
Zachary Quinto is just as baffled as you are. Well, okay, Quinto plays Bennett, Franco’s other half in this film. And Bennett gets left for another man, who happens to be God. Michael starts out curious about religion because some of the queer youth he advocates for have been spurned by parents and schools in the name of religious belief. But the more he studies, the more susceptible he becomes to some very old, out of date, uncompassionate teachings. And things twist around in his mind so much that he makes the decision to “stop” being gay. He becomes a pastor himself, the kind who will sit down in front of a vulnerable kid and tell him “gay doesn’t exist” and he’ll have to “choose heterosexuality in order to be with God.”
I Am Michael attempts to tackle this surprise conversion with as much fairness and balance as possible, but it’s still stifling and sad to watch a man learn to loathe himself. Franco slides from determined advocacy, to, well, madness. He convinces himself that the voice he hears is God giving directions, but I sure as hell wasn’t convinced. I thought he was clearly troubled and had mounts of unresolved grief, both parents having died when he was quite young. And while it’s natural to want to be reunited with one’s mother, the lengths he goes to in order to guarantee his ascension into heaven is really tragic. And it made me angry all over again, this presumption of the church to tell people that they are mistakes, and those mistakes are bad and sinful and that God can’t possibly love them or accept them as they are (as He Himself made them???).
But the truth is, the fire that I feel for this subject wasn’t enough to sustain me through this movie. I thought it blandly and boringly told. It felt more like a powerpoint presentation than a movie. Michael’s struggle is largely internal, so the drama just doesn’t manifest. And because we don’t see or understand what must be a torturous process, the film feels slight, inconsequential.
I Am Michael is a fascinating premise that didn’t really work for me as a film. The director works so hard at being fair that the movie never really has a point of view. For all the talk of spirituality, there’s no real fire. It’s an interesting story uninterestingly told.