The story of Michael Glatze is a very intriguing one, so if you’re unfamiliar with him or the New York Times article I Am Michael is based on (“My Ex-Gay Best Friend” written by Benoit Denizet-Lewis), I highly recommend reading it when you have time to spare. With that said, I Am Michael focuses on Glatze’s journey from being one of the most visible, outspoken gay activists of the late ’90s to becoming one of its most vocal dissenters as he renounced his homosexuality to become a Christian pastor later in life. As is the nature of biopics, a lot of details are glossed over for sake of pacing, time structure, etc., but overall, I Am Michael serves as a quick primer into the intriguing life of a once prominent “ex-gay.”
I Am Michael
Director: Justin Kelly
Release Date: January 29, 2015 (Sundance)
Michael Glatze (James Franco) was a vital voice in the LGBT community, with his roles as a managing editor for XY Magazine and co-founder of Young Gay America magazine helping many other young gay youth find a strong voice to help with their own personal journeys. During this time, he was in a committed relationship with long-time boyfriend and former co-worker, Bennett (Zachary Quinto). Always intrigued with queer theory and identity, Glatze was always debating what exactly defined homosexuality outside of the base simplicity of same-sex attraction. However, following a health scare in which he was worried he inherited a terminal heart disease from his father, Glatze slowly found himself embracing the teachings of Christianity, culminating with his public renouncement of his homosexuality in 2007 to become a Christian pastor. He then began to write articles and public blogs denouncing homosexuality as vile and a sin. I Am Michael keys into pivotal moments of Glatze’s transformation from the final days at XY through the launch of YGA to his meeting his future wife, Rebekah (Emma Roberts) at Bible school following his self-discovery.
It’s easy to take sides with a film about such a divisive story such as Glatze’s, but writer/director Justin Kelly was able to display the facts without an impartial bias or agenda. This wouldn’t have been accomplished so successfully without a strong actor like Franco at the fray to handle the nuance of portraying a character that runs the entire spectrum of sexual identity while still keeping true to a base personality trait of helping others. Indeed, what’s interesting about Glatze’s story is that he’s always been one to impart wisdom and guidance to people, whether as an activist or editor for prominent LGBT media or as an aspiring pastor. Franco’s portrayal as a man haunted not so much by his sexual desires (although episodes of his struggle to come to terms with his heterosexuality do arise), but his spiritual desire to be reunited with his parents whom he lost at an early age becomes the primary conflict of the film rather than the surface level conflict of sexuality.
Unfortunately, as is often the case of biopics, the film’s pacing feels off, especially when it begins to pick up momentum, just to lose flow due to a title card indicating a time jump between scenes. Furthermore, while the major moments in Glatze’s life are carefully chosen, I Am Michael still felt like it ran too long with moments of disengagement taking places between the major moments of conflict. On a more positive note, the performances are handled deftly, with Franco delivering a great performance. Roberts, despite only appearing in the film’s third act, also comes on screen with a breath of fresh air as the alluring, though naive (and ultimately accepting) Rebekah. Quinto, however, felt a bit underutilized in his role as Glatze’s long-term/former boyfriend, despite sharing the bulk of the first two acts’ screen time alongside Franco.
I Am Michael should be received well as it does the festival circuit and finds release in indie and arthouse theaters. Franco’s portrayal as Glatze should also receive praise as it not only further expands upon Franco’s range, but also shows his willingness to partake in passion projects alongside other major, big budget films. Those familiar with or intrigued by Glatze’s story will also receive the film a lot better than those without any prior familiarity. However, everybody outside of these circles might find little to keep them interested in watching the film.