Chosen as the Opening Night Gala film for this year’s BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival, this is an angry-making film. It’s supposed to be as it’s probably the first Going In movie, in that it’s a reversed Coming Out tale: I am Michael tells the story of how Michael Glatze went from out gay activist and editor of San Fransisco-based gay magazine XY to a straight, married Pastor in Wyoming.
The film opens with James Franco as Michael and Zachary Quinto as his loving-yet-bland boyfriend Bennet. Apparently they’re happily in love in San Francisco, both running a gay magazine and helping gay youth in 2001. We watch as Bennett and Michael go from being happy together to being happy in a three-way relationship with Tyler (played by the ab-tastic Charlie Carver). At least, we assume they’re happy together – at no point does anyone say “I am happy being gay with you”, which is about the level of some of the exposition this script has in places. Michael is moody. Bennett is bland. Tyler is pretty. That’s about it.
And then Michael seems to get bored of this lack of depth in his life, almost as if his character is feeling the same lack of substance to the movie as the audience, and so decides to leave his alternative little family and go off to pursue answers to the burning questions he has about his place in the universe. This ultimately ends up with him renouncing his homosexuality in a public and incredibly damaging way to all those around him and the work they’ve been doing, before marrying a girl. Like you do.
The script is really clunky and expositionary: every time someone opens their mouth, they’re either explaining something, espousing an argument about equality and gay rights or somehow moving the plot forward. Which is the problem: the characters have no real depth; they’re all telling a story, not existing within that story, and that tends to make it boring. Really boring. As this is a true-life story, the narrative arc doesn’t really have a huge amount of resolution or the kind of closure you would expect from a more-tightly-written, neater piece. It’s rather disjointed, and uncomfortable even with itself.
Which, in itself, is fine, but when Bennet, Michael’s loving boyfriend of many years, finds out Michael is leaving him, he hugs him and sends him on his way. There’s no heart to these characters – they all occupy some bland, passive ambience around Franco’s main character, all negatively affected by his actions, but nevertheless allowing him to continue down this self-destructive path.
The only exception to this is Nico, played by the beautiful and talented Avan Jogia, a hippy-ish Buddhist Michael meets on his travels, who, after ten or 15 minutes’ of Michael’s self-indulgent fuckery, turns around and tears him a new one. One would think this would be an inevitability after some of the things Michael has done and said, but when Nico gets angry and challenges Michael, it’s incredibly refreshing.
It’s not just the script and the plot that are too wrapped up in themselves – the cinematography is weird and self-involved too. There’s plenty of pretty functional, standard camerawork and then, for no real reason, there’ll be an odd angle thrown in, presumably to keep the viewer interested, because the story certainly isn’t up to the job.
The whole film is designed, obviously, to be one that asks questions and inspires discussion, but upon leaving, the only questions I had were, ‘What was the point of that?’, ‘What were the filmmakers trying to say?’, and, crucially, ‘Where can I get a drink?’. Sadly, only one of these questions was answered to any degree of satisfaction.
Overall Verdict: This film is, in many ways, quintessentially James Franco: troubled, self-involved and, all told in a way that, like the main character, lacks the charisma to entertain anyone but the storyteller himself. Self-indulgent, bland and overlong, this film manages to make a threeway with Zachary Quinto, James Franco and Charlie Carver seem boring.
BFI Flare: London’s LGBT Film Festival opens on Thursday 19th March and runs until Sunday 29th March. For full details and to book tickets, visit bfi.org.uk/flare
Reviewer: Scott Elliott