I Am Michael (9.5 out of 10) – Written and Directed by Justin Kelly; Starring James Franco, Zachary Quinto, Emma Roberts and Charlie Carver; Not Rated; 98 minutes.
Before this movie premiered, I am sure not many outside of the LGBT community had much of an idea of who Michael Glatze was. There was an article in the New York Times a few years ago that followed up on what had happened to him since he fell out of the spotlight, but that was probably the only exposure many had of this intriguing person. As the managing editor of XY Magazine which was aimed at LGBT youth, teens and young adults, he was very influential in the lives of many gay youth, and some of his writings on his blog and in that magazine were part of the catalyst that helped me come out. He shocked everyone in 2007 when he denounced homosexuality and claimed that no one is really gay, just straight with a homosexual problem. "I am Michael" brilliantly chronicles his story and the events that led to his decision.
"I am Michael" opens with a stern and conservative Michael (James Franco) sitting down with a young teen who admits to having problems with his sexuality and that he might be gay. Michael asks him if he wants to get into heaven and be a good person, and upon an affirmative response, says that the only way the boy can do that is to become straight. Flash back a few years to the turn of the century, and Michael is at a rave taking ecstasy with his boyfriend, Bennett (Zachary Quinto), before later on finding Tyler (Charlie Carver) and taking him home for a night of sexual abandon between the three of them. This sets a course for a polyamorous relationship between the men as they tour the country making a documentary to show LGBT youth they that not only shouldn't they be afraid of who they are, but they should have extreme pride in their self being. Michael is completely obsessed with being his true self and begins a series of lectures explaining that people are more than their sexuality and shouldn't even label themselves with terms such as "gay", "straight", "lesbian", etc. Despite the outward show he is putting forth for the world to see, pangs of doubt haunt him and a series of heart palpitations and panic attacks lead him to worry that perhaps the God of the religion he left as a young man is angry with him for what he has become and is trying to send him a wake-up call. As Michael delves into the Bible and tries to find an answer for all that has happened, he eventually leaves his boyfriends, converts to Christianity and renounces homosexuality and everything he has ever represented.
In real life, Michael Glatze was a very conflicted and troubled man, and James Franco's portrayal of him here is simply astounding. Most people automatically type cast Franco as a stooge or living joke from all the stoner comedies he has done, but it is in movies like this and "127 Hours" where he shows just how great of an actor he really is. His complete metamorphosis from a liberal, and firebrand of a gay activist to a stoic and stern pastor is handled so deftly that it almost seems like two people playing the part. Not to be outdone, Zachary Quinto also stands tall as the extremely patient boyfriend who is desperately trying to support the man he loves as well as figure out how Michael could betray him and throw out everything he had worked so hard to accomplish.
What's also great is how well writer/director Justin Kelly handles the very delicate subject matter of the ex-gay movement and Michael's decision to denounce homosexuality. Kelly is always careful to never pick sides in this hot-button debate and always makes it clear that Michael is choosing the decisions himself. His guilt over not being with his mom before she died tied in with a hope to see her in the afterlife along with the heart problems are the catalyst that drives Michael to change his life in an effort to be true to himself. No guilt is ever placed on gay rights advocates or the right-wing over this, and it was refreshing to see someone who just wanted to deliver a story with no agenda. While the movie is hardly a documentary, it is presented almost completely objectively, and the only one who can answer for his actions, whether good or bad, is Michael.
While I went in very intrigued to learn more of the story of the man who had such an influence on my life, I was far from prepared for what this movie gave me. Incredible acting, a riveting story and the agony and eventual rebirth of a man who went from gay rights hero to someone disdained and untrusted by pretty much everyone he knew, "I am Michael" has been the best thing I've experienced at Sundance so far. This film is one that deserves to be seen by everyone, but especially by those who are even remotely touched or involved with LGBT issues, no matter their opinion on the matter.