In 2007, a prominent gay activist named Michael Glatze produced shocked gasps and not a few eye-rolls by renouncing his homosexuality, declaring himself straight, and becoming a Christian minister. “I Am Michael” covers this juicy story with sympathy for everyone involved, and without casting too much judgment on anyone’s decisions — it’s not the “haw haw, look at this delusional religious buffoon!” screed you might expect (especially from a movie premiering at Sundance). But while director Justin Kelly doesn’t sensationalize the material, he doesn’t give it much personality, either. The film is competent, more or less (it’s Kelly’s first feature), but unremarkable.
James Franco, an actor whose sexuality has been the subject of much speculation and coy non-revelations, might be the perfect choice to play Michael. He starts in the ’90s as managing editor of San Francisco-based gay glossy XY Magazine before moving with his boyfriend, Bennett (Zachary Quinto), to Bennett’s hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Michael and Bennett adopt a third person into their relationship (Charlie Carver) and tour the U.S. and Canada making a documentary about LGBT youth. Michael doesn’t seem to be wavering on his sexual preferences, but even from the beginning he dislikes labels. (“Gay and straight are just social constructs.”) And while he hates the fundamentalist Christian churches that make life miserable for so many gay teens, he also realizes that gay activism sometimes makes it seem like if you’re gay, you’re obligated to be part of the movement, which turns young people off.
After a few bits of religious foreshadowing, Michael suffers a health scare and then has a full-on spiritual awakening. He comes to the conclusion that identifying as gay stops you from knowing your true self, which prevents you from knowing God. “I rid myself of my abnormal desires,” he claims, leaving Bennett and the third dude heartbroken.
Kelly co-wrote the screenplay with Stacey Miller, adapting Benoit Denizet Lewis’ New York Times Magazine article. The first section meanders dully, but once Michael’s spiritual side kicks in, the story is compelling, aided by Franco’s sincere performance. Franco seems to understand that whether he was right or not, Michael Glatze earnestly believed he could (and must) change his orientation. We may not be emotionally moved, but Franco and Kelly at least help us understand Michael’s thought process.
B- (1 hr., 41 min.; )