Rating: (4 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!] Friday, 10/24/2008, 7:00 PM Feature presentation, $10 at AFI Silver
”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 — some may break free and accept themselves, but the cycle goes on, as there is always one more gay man trying to find salvation by ”becoming straight.”
The movie focuses on newcomer Mark (Chad Allen, giving a performance of stunning power and clarity), and the feelings he stirs in Scott (Robert Gant, effectively understated) — and the problems their clandestine, pining glances cause for those around them, Gayle in particular.
The film derives power from its unique setting — few gay films are set in reparative therapy ministry — as well as from a compelling, gripping performance from Light. Her hair a mousy brown (which only barely disguises her radiant beauty), her face exhibiting a dichotomy of concern and intolerance, Light brings this vexing woman to alarming life. It’s just another notch in Light’s shining career of late, which has revealed her to be an actress of extraordinary mastery and bottomless depth.
The film was written by Light’s husband, Robert Desiderio, and co-produced by her longtime friend and manager, Herb Hamsher, so it’s kind of a family affair. But it’s a family affair with tremendous meaning. Surprisingly, Save Me doesn’t judge the reparative therapy ideal harshly (though it certainly doesn’t condone it), but rather tries to bring understanding to its purpose. You might say, it’s incredibly enlightening.
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