“I don’t change people — I show them how to get closer to Jesus Christ and let them make their own way,” insists Gayle (Judith Light), facilitator of Genesis House, a “Christian recovery program specializing in sexual brokenness.” What’s broken, in Gayle’s mind, are the gay young men who come through the ministry’s doors. Yearning to be straight, they buy into the ministry’s religious hyperbole without question. Or do they? The notion is explored in Save Me, a pain-stoked drama that eschews sensationalism for rich, deeply felt performances and a narrative path that is ultimately as affirming as it is troubling — while some may learn to love themselves for who they are, there is always one more gay man trying to “be straight.” The narrative focuses on Mark (Chad Allen, giving a performance of marked clarity), and the feelings he stirs in Scott (Robert Gant) — and the problems their clandestine, pining glances cause for those around them, and Gayle in particular. The film gains power from its unique setting — few gay films are set in a ”reparative therapy” ministry — as well as a compelling, gripping performance from Light. Her face a dichotomy of concern and intolerance, Light brings this vexing woman to bracing life. Save Me doesn’t judge the reparative-therapy movement harshly (though it certainly doesn’t condone it), but rather director Robert Cray and writer Robert Desiderio try to bring understanding to its purpose. One might even call it enlightening. –RS
If you only watch one film on this list, let it be Shelter. No other film here can deliver a viewing experience so unassuming yet rewarding as this tale of growing up, coming out and experiencing first love on the sun-kissed beaches of California. Featuring beautiful cinematography, an appropriately angst-filled soundtrack, an attractive and talented cast and an effortlessly easy plot, it offers up the celluloid equivalent of an antidepressant. We follow Zach (Trevor Wright), an aspiring artist who lives with his sister in San Pedro, as he works a dead-end job and deals with life in a rut. Enter his best friend’s openly gay older brother Shaun (Brad Rowe), who returns home to Los Angeles and befriends Zach. Zach struggles with the feelings he develops for Shaun, attempting to conceal them from his family and girlfriend, and the impact his newfound emotions have on his life. The nervous, frustrated build-up to the pairing’s first sexual encounter is worth the price of admission alone. Shelter doesn’t have the deepest plot, or the most lyrical dialogue, nor will it blow you away with high production values or incredible set pieces. Instead, it strips away the layers that suffocate many LGBT films and offers a love story so elegantly simple it’s almost perfect. –RM
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