Matthew 10:39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
Michael Glatze was a former prominent gay activist who served as the managing editor of XY magazine in San Francisco, and was also the co-founder of Young Gay America, a bimonthly magazine for LGBT youth launched late 2004. Michael was in a ten year relationship with Benjie Nycum, awarded the National Role Model Award from the Equality Forum and then publicly announced that he no longer identified with being a homosexual, and turned to Christianity.
I Am Michael is adapted from The New York Times Magazine featured story “My Ex-Gay Friend” by Benoit Denizet-Lewis. The film is directed by first-time filmmaker Justin Kelly, and stars James Franco as Michael Glatze, Zachary Quinto as his long term partner Bennett (the name was changed for the film), and Emma Roberts as Michael’s wife Rebekah Fuller.
I Am Michael commences with a present-day Michael offering reassurance and advice to reject homosexual urges to a young Bible student. It then flashes back to San Francisco with Michael lying in bed with his partner Bennett. The first half of the film focuses on Michael’s life as a proud gay man, the stress of a job relocation to Nova Scotia in support of Bennett, and an addition of a third partner Tyler (Charlie Carver) who Michael meets at a local gay bar.
The second half of the film focuses on a hereditary heart disease that Michael is adamant that he is suffering from, panic attacks and a quick procession into faith exploration. A chance encounter with a gay Christian while filming the documentary project “Jim In Bold” and dwelling on his mother’s death, lead Michael to study the bible. Slowly withdrawing from his gay social life and taking a relationship break from Bennett and Tyler, Michael seizes on the scripture Matthew 10:39 as a calling from god, which faith to follow becomes part of his journey.
As a Christian who came out and denounced Christianity as a man made organised religion I found discomfort in being presented initially with an alternative life path. Michael is not without his weaknesses and despite declaring that he no longer identifies with being a homosexual, it does not necessary mean that he ceases relationships with the same sex. Despite blog entries and online postings that homosexuality is abnormal, his pain and self doubt offer the viewer a more balanced account .
Michael eventually relocates to Wyoming to attend Bible School and meets Rebekah. Like most of his previous religious studies he displays a number of dissociative disorders and is eventually asked to leave yet another institution. This time Michael wants his own Parish and despite reading online about Michael’s past identity, Rebekah wants to be the Parish spouse. Still desperately seeking guidance, Michael makes an emotional phone call to Bennett and the viewer is left with a blink and you’ll miss it cliff-hanger.
The real-life Michael Glatze incidentally attended the film premier at Sundance, and according to James Franco “He thanked all of us, and it seemed like the movie was already—and will continue to be—a tool to help him heal,” Franco continues “I think this movie has shown him a way to still be the person he wants to be today without destroying the person he was before.”
Controversial subject matter aside, this is an excellent directorial debut by Justin Kelly who worked as an editorial assistant on Gus Van Sant’s film Milk (which also co-starred James Franco). I Am Michael succeeds in taking the viewer inside the head of its main character. It is a film that will provoke discussion on all sides, but more films should facilitate dialogue.