The opening gala of the BFI Flare Festival this year (yup, this festival is now officially big enough to have a proper gala with a party and everything) was Justin Kelly's based on a true story directorial debut I Am Michael. Starring the ever LGBT friendly James Franco and Executive Produced by Gus Van Sant (from a short story he sourced), this tells the mostly true tale of an early gay rights activist and editor who goes on what you might call a journey less travelled.
Michael is Michael Glatze, an editor at early gay rights magazine XY is an openly gay man in a long term relationship with Bennett (Zachary Quinto). He is co-author of the book XY Survival Guide which is constantly referenced by people in the movie who cite it as a source of strength in their battle with society to establish their sexuality. When a gay man is beaten to death, Michael seems to start on a journey that has him question his own sexuality, question the existence of god (add your capital G if it suits) and ultimately betray his ideals of freedom and acceptance.
With subject matter that fascinating, it's something of a shame that Kelly has taken such an even handed tack when relating the tale for the big screen. In some senses, his acceptance of Glatze's catastrophic flip from tolerant, accepting gay man to vitriolic and narrow minded pastor is a credit to Kelly's character. In other senses, it makes me wish he'd just made the documentary this film so closely resembles.
It's not that this is a bad or uninteresting movie, far from it, at times it's genuinely mortifying to watch the slow motion car crash that is Glatze's conversion to the lord (or Buddha, depending on which bit of the movie you catch him at) but on the whole I found myself screaming for the movie to treat this with more edge than it does. When Michael ends his ten year relationship with Bennett, I felt none of the shrieking desperation I should have when an obviously loving relationship is torn apart by one of the parties. There's some shouting sure but Quinto isn't given enough material to really express what must have been a soul destroying slow meltdown in their relationship. The leads play it well when they are together, I never for a second questioned their passion when they were in the relationship, even with the mutual introduction of third partner Tyler (young Matt Damon. Sorry, Charlie Carver). But when the relationship falls apart, come on! I want more than one half shouting 'Shut the fuck up!'.
I'm being overly harsh I suspect because I feel like there is such a gap between the fascinating material and the quality cast (Carver is great and Emma Roberts does well in a smallish role as Glatze's post-gay wife) and the oh so even, oh so accepting script. I fully appreciate the irony given the subject matter but I think a movie can pick a side without demonising it. However you take it, I think I Am Michael speaks volumes for Kelly as a human but I can't help but wish it had screamed the injustice and stupidity it portrayed much louder than it did.