By Jeff Walsh
"Save Me" is an independent movie opening in theaters in September, and it is the first production from Mythgarden, the production house started by openly gay actors Chad Allen and Robert Gant.
In the opening scene we see Mark (Allen) doing drugs, drinking, and having hot vacant sex with a hot vacant guy -- bottoming and bottoming out. The next morning at check out time, the motel owner finds Mark on the motel room floor, having overdosed.
He wakes up in a hospital room, screaming at his brother and yelling at his mother, who is in the hospital hallway, but unable to even come in the room and look at her son. They pay for him to spend two months at Genesis House, a Christian-run "ex-gay" ministry that can also handle his sobriety issues (they use the same 12 steps to cure people of their sexuality anyway).
At the center, Mark encounters Scott (Gant), another "ex-gay" at the live-in center run by Gayle (Judith Light). I won't spoil the details, but anyone whose ever seen a movie before can figure out where this is going, not that it makes the journey any less interesting to watch.
"Save Me" is oft-putting at first, because the audience most likely to watch this movie in the first place also thinks that "ex-gay" ministries are, well, bullshit. But there is no satirical dialogue, nothing to cut down the ministry. Instead they show it for what it truly is, people trying to do what they think is right. Gayle had a 16-year-old son who came out to her, and she turned him away. Her son died shortly thereafter, having turned to drugs, and his detah was the catalyst for her to save other parents from the same fate.
While it sounds like an afterschool special, the three main characters rise above that classification with engaging, honest portrayals. Mark takes to the program and gets his life cleaned up. Scott tries to lose his gay identity to please his dying homophobic father. And Gayle sees Mark as a surrogate for her son whom she wants to protect. There is breath, life, and emotional baggage being carried by all of these people, and all are acting from a place of wanting to improve their lives, even when their desires conflict with the reality of their situations.
I love "But I'm A Cheerleader" as much as the next gay, but it's a lot harder to show the dignity and good intent of everyone involved. (I think the people at the top of ex-gay ministries know they are money-making bullshit, but I think the people at the ground level believe in the virtue and the importance of the work they are doing.) Of course, it does beg the question of the audience for the movie, and whether people are willing to sit through people struggling with these issues, when nearly everyone going to the movie is likely to think ex-gay ministries are, to repeat myself, bullshit.
Even the website for the movie has links to spiritual groups that cater to the LGBT community, faith resources in general, and websites about the ex-gay movement. So, there is definitely a sense that the movie isn't building up a well-constructed straw man here, but wanting people to dig deeper.
There is a heart to this movie, and a simplicity. You can see how living in a house with set meal times, chores, painting bird houses to sell at a local event… there is something to living a life that isn't dictated by sexuality. But, in "Save Me" we get to see both extremes, and realize there is a lot of room in the middle where everyone can find a path that works for them. I think this movie does a great job of raising questions and not making the answers as easy as they might seem.
And how everyone eventually has to find a path that includes their sexuality, spirituality, family, friendships, and work to smooth the lines between all of these things that can experience conflict. The movie does what art is meant to do: tell us a story, but then make us question the issues it raises in our own lives.
Definitely worth seeing if it comes to a city near you or, eventually, when it's released on DVD.
Save Me opens in New York and Los Angeles in September, and in other markets throughout the fall. Check the website for details.