Kevin O’Brien’s directorial debut At the End of the Day which played at this year’s Dances with Films festival in Los Angeles, draws on a subject close to him – the homophobic intolerance of conservative Christians, who ignore the Bible’s teachings of love and acceptance in favour of a few sentences that label same-sex love a sin. O’Brien was raised in a Conservative Christian home, before working at a church for ten years, so he understands the prejudices of this community better than anybody, and is the best person to bring a story to the screen about confronting and overcoming them.
Stephen Shane Martin stars as Dave Hopper, who has just been hired as a professor at a Conservative Christian college after being removed from his local church after his wife left him for another woman. His mild mannered nature hides a bitter homophobia, with his new boss decides to exploit by using him to infiltrate a local LGBT group who are planning on opening a homeless youth shelter the college wishes to shut down. Upon meeting the group, he tries to sabotage their efforts to raise funds to open a shelter – plans that slowly turn awry when he begins to question whether he’s doing the Christian thing of ruining the good deeds of people helping those in need.
At the End of the Day wears its religious themes very lightly on its sleeve; it’s undeniably aimed at an audience with religious leanings in the hope of challenging their pre-conceptions of the LGBT community, but not to the extent that it becomes alienating for viewers outside of this mindset. For starters, O’Brien’s screenplay manages to balance its philosophical musings with a broad sense of humour – and as a result, the film feels down to earth and believable, despite the very heightened nature of the subject matter. You never get the sense that you’re watching anything as exaggerated as a dramatisation of the ongoing societal clash between religious conservatism and LGBT acceptance, as O’Brien has crafted characters who feel far richer than the narrow minded caricatures they paint each other as.
In the lead role, Stephen Shane Martin has the hard task of trying to make a character with such closed-minded views somewhat redeemable. Choosing to play the role with a shyness that suggests confusion over the conflicts between the nature of “sin” and the preaching of acceptance in the bible, Martin manages to make a seemingly unlikeable character feel merely flawed – somebody who hasn’t take the time to truly examine the effects of his prejudices, and whether or not they are backed up by his Christian beliefs. O’Brien manages to poke fun at his many contradictions with every chance he gets, without ever diluting the serious impact of the anti-gay preaching that the character hasn’t given enough in-depth thought towards.
At the End of the Day is a deceptively simple comic drama, hiding a more complex examination of the relationship between the Christian and LGBT communities. It’s unashamedly aimed at the mainstream American audience, with a mission to change hearts and minds – but when the film has a message like this (as obvious as that message may be), that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Kevin O’Brien