I Am Michael recounts, sometimes artlessly, the true story of Michael Glatze, a gay activist and publishing impresario who renounced rainbow flags to embrace Christ and heterosexuality. It stars James Franco in the title role — casting that proves to be the film’s biggest burden.
Based on Benoit Denizet-Lewis’ 2011 New York Times Magazine article “My Ex-Gay Friend,” Justin Kelly’s movie opens somewhere in Wyoming with the principal, his hair as stiff and short as that of a Fifties-TV dad, counseling a teen tormented by his desires: “Gay doesn’t exist. It’s a false identity.” We flash back ten years earlier, to 1998, when Glatze, an amateur queer theorist, his tresses now shaggy and bleached blond, utters similar words — but with a completely different context and meaning — to his colleagues at the Castro office of XY, a twink-targeted magazine: “Gay and straight are just social constructs.” (Denizet-Lewis’ article probes this irony much more than the movie does.)
A health scare is the putative reason that Glatze abandons his happy, thriving throuple (his long-term boyfriend is played by Zachary Quinto, and the most recent addition to the ménage by Charlie Carver) and his commitment to LGBTQ-youth outreach for Ann Coulter tomes and furiously highlighted Bible passages. Many of the tormented protagonist’s shifts in thinking are awkwardly conveyed through reams of off-screen monologuing: Glatze’s blog entries are read aloud by Franco, an infamous graduate-degree collector not so long ago, in a voice that suggests poetry-MFA earnestness, horrible acting, or both. Or maybe something worse: a reprise of the actor’s own inflated sense of himself as faux-mo provocateur — a cynicism and smugness left over from Interior. Leather Bar. (2013), his unendurable Cruising vanity project.
I Am Michael
Directed by Justin Kelly
Opens January 27, Cinema Village