Of the dozens of films that were set to screen at the Sundance Film Festival this year, ‘I am Michael’ was probably the one with the most buzz behind it. The film stars James Franco, Emma Roberts and Zachary Quinto and will most likely be the one of the most talked about films from this year’s event.
Franco takes on the role of Michael Glatze, the gay-rights journalist who stated that religion aided him in throwing away his former ‘lifestyle,’ giving up friends, loved-ones and his career to eventually become a Christian pastor.
If anything the film stirs debate, demands discussion and boils over passions that lay repressed in our society at times, on both sides of the many issues that the film touches on. These dormant topics often need to be brought to the surface time and time again, and the film does a remarkable job at staying neutral enough to easily debate both sides of Glatze’s choices.
The film’s centerpiece is a rare and delicate situation, few times in modern history can both conservative Christians and the gay community be angry at one man during one film, but in this piece, both sides can pick moments that betray each community’s ideals. The film is almost a reverse “coming-out” moment in Glatze’s life, and where you decide he is being the most honest with himself will probably dictate which side you will take in the debate.
The entire coming-of-age moment that constitutes “coming-out” to one’s friends and family is a topic that should not be taken lightly. Millions of people can share horrific tales of betrayal, sadness and anger that instantly tore apart families the moment that he or she came out to their loved-ones. In a bizarre twist, the exact same thing happened when Glatze announced that he was no longer gay, and that he had changed to save himself. It’s only if you think he is being honest with himself, that you will accept it as the same. If you don’t, then you will most likely see his change as a terrible betrayal to his friends and to himself.
Franco does a terrific job of expressing the inner-turmoil of the film, considering the inevitable consequences that will result after he abandons his friends and career for his new found religion.
Justin Kelly directed the film, and by keeping the piece as neutral as possible in his telling of the story, it lost some of the passion that you may expect to find. Instead of one particular scene, the screenplay serves as a gentle curve, gently ending at Glatze’s religious decision. It should also be mentioned that the screenplay was co-written by the very talented Stacey Miller.
The film points to Glatze’s mother dying as a sort of catalyst to his newfound outlook on his life, indicating that his fear of a doomed afterlife may be the real reason behind his change. It’s subtle enough that you can draw some of your own conclusions, but well written and intriguing throughout.
It should be noted that Glatze’s change was most prolific in his outlook towards the younger gay community outside of the film. During his time as a gay-right’s activist, Glatze was a beacon of hope to many. A symbol to younger men and women who struggled with their identity just as he did, and looked at his acceptance of himself as a sort of destination that they wanted to achieve. Moving on to become a Christian pastor caused a complete divide, with Glatze only reaching out to this community now to ‘save’ them from themselves through religion.
With Glatze as the centerpiece, the story is well-written but with Emma Roberts and Zachary Quinto doing such a fantastic job in their roles, it was hard not to wish their stories were expanded in the film. It’s a movie that will most likely strike each person differently, and it’s very likely that no other actor but James Franco could pull-off such a role and still leave such ambiguity about Glatze’s real sexuality.