MiniReview: "I Am Michael" (film)

James Franco and Zachary Quinto in a relatively rare moment of happiness.

What is it?

An American independent film released in 2015, written and directed by Justin Kelly.


What’s it about?

It’s based on the true story of Michael Glatze, a prominent gay writer who later turned to religion and turned on homosexuals.


Was this, like, in the 1950s or something?

No, more like 2006, 2007.


Oh, geez.

Yeah. Before I go any further, I just want to say I’m uncomfortable with the vast number of new films and TV series that are supposedly based on the lives of people who are still very much alive and kicking, because of course any work of art takes a position on what it’s portraying. (Don’t get me started on The Crown.) So what I say about this film is only based on what I saw in the film; I don’t know the truth of the real people’s lives. I'm sure it was all more nuanced than what I saw here.



It’s an okay film, totally watchable. But ultimately, it’s not very dramatic. There are a lot of scenes of James Franco looking tortured as he “changes his mind” about being gay. That’s not inherently exciting, watching someone change their mind. There’s relatively little in the way of dialogue in which the characters might thrash out the implications of his decision to leave his devoted lover (Zachary Quinto, in a rather thankless role), seek enlightenment, and then attack the queer community. It’s all rather static, as Franco the loner just wanders around by himself looking more and more unhappy.


But at least the film is dealing with important themes.

Well, I’m not so sure it is. It’s not really about the relationship between Christianity and homosexuality, but more about one deeply insecure man’s desire to seek comfort in simple, absolute notions. I don’t really see it as more than that. The character of Michael, in the film, is someone who needs to feel in control, and is terrified by the fact that he doesn’t control life and death (his parents both died quite young). He seeks comfort (and ultimately power) through religion; and like a child holding his breath as he passes a graveyard, believing that will protect him from the undead, Michael decides that God won’t leave his side as long as he remains on the straight (heterosexual) and narrow.



No. This is just a sad, small, unusual story with nothing much to say. Gay viewers will find it interesting as the opposite of a coming-out film, but ultimately it is empty and retrograde. If the story is interesting to you, I'd highly recommend reading the article by Benoit Denizet-Lewis that inspired the film. It's much more thought-provoking than the film.

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