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Soul-searching: instead of demonizing "ex-gay" ministries, Save Me takes the more difficult path and examines the reasons some people seek treatment in the first place.

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IN A WORLD WHERE PREJUDICE is often preached from the pulpit, it isn't easy to be both religious and gay. For centuries holy leaders from all corners of the world have condemned homosexuality--and yet, many gays and lesbians still try to lead religious lives. Why would we want to belong to a church when so many are instrumental in sowing antigay bigotry? What allure could organized religion still hold for gay people?

Those are weighty questions, and at first, Robert Cary's religious drama Save Me doesn't seem up to tackling them. The film begins in the most obvious way possible, juxtaposing a church hymn sung by temperate Gayle (Judith Light) with the sex-and-drugs lifestyle of promiscuous tweaker Mark (Chad Allen). After some exaggerated Reefer Madness--level escapades, Mark's brother intervenes and sends him not to rehab but to Genesis House, a Christian ministry (run by Gayle and her husband) that promises to cure gay men of their "sexual brokenness." Though Mark doesn't himself seem to view his fast life as a by-product of his homosexuality, he's confused and malleable enough to continue staying at Genesis House--especially after meeting hunky fellow resident Scott (Robert Gant), who's been living at the desert-set ministry for several years.

Save Me was originally based on a more satirical script written by Craig Chester (Adam & Steve), but even reimagined as a drama, the film's treatment of gay and religious issues seems comedically black-and-white. The ensemble actors playing Genesis House's "ex-gays" seem to be in a race to telegraph how little faith they have in their newfound heterosexuality, conveying none of the insistent fervor that true believers display when discussing their conversions. When the Genesis House members are instructed to cross their legs in a manly way or when they make a hopelessly fey attempt at a game of baseball, it's clear that a potentially substantive exploration of the ex-gay movement will be sacrificed for wan laughs.

Thank God, then, for Judith Light. It's jarring at first to see Light, a longtime gay rights advocate, portray Gayle, a woman devoted to "curing" men of their gayness. But armed with a steady gaze and quiet authority that recalls Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, Light avoids easy villainy, making her character the most human in the movie. "I don't change people," she says. "I try to show them how to get closer to Jesus Christ." For Gayle, her mission is less bigoted than self-evident: Who wouldn't give up a lonely gay life for the community offered by Christianity?

It's here that the movie taps into its most provocative theme: namely, the implicit accusation that the "gay community," such as it is, offers its members little more than nightlife. "The bars and the parties ... that didn't feel like who I was supposed to be," Scott says. When he flees the ministry to get in touch with his repressed sexuality, a gay bar is the only place he knows to go. With few role models for how to live life as a gay man, it's not surprising that so many who yearn for guidance turn to a traditional manual, the Bible. And though Save Me's portrayal of that reality is sometimes too pat, it succeeds at exploring the motivations of the characters. Many of the men at Genesis House are there because they've never known a gay life that didn't involve risky sex and drugs. Instead of merely demonizing those who would convert them, the film challenges other gay men to lead by example.
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Author:Buchanan, Kyle
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Movie review
Date:Sep 9, 2008
Words:586
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