Whether due to his affinity for portraying gay men or his witty refusals to answer questions about such matters during interviews, James Franco’s sexuality has been difficult to pin down over course of his career. Though he eventually clarified the matter in early 2016, the exaggerated buzz over the question still defines the earlier years of his career. Perhaps this former ambiguity of his sexuality makes his interpretation of Michael Glatze in the new film “I Am Michael” even more fascinating. Glatze was a gay activist who renounced his homosexuality in 2007 to become a Christian pastor. He was then made famous by a New York Times Magazine profile.
Years ago, nobody would bat an eye when a straight actor portrayed a gay character, but as we have fought for and made progress in terms of queer representation, audiences and actors alike have begun to demand the right to tell LGBT stories through LGBT actors. The decision to cast a straight actor as a gay character is no longer as readily received as it used to be.
In “I Am Michael,” Zachary Quinto and Charlie Carver, both gay themselves, deliver masterful, touching performances as gay men. The focus, however, is on Franco’s eponymous Michael Glatze. The former question of Franco’s sexual identity happens to nicely complement his portrayal of a man who — depending on where you stand politically — is either a gay man who turned his back on his community or a straight Christian who cured himself of evil temptations and found salvation.
Franco’s line delivery is sometimes spot-on and at other times absolutely unconvincing. However, this contrast serves to further nuance his character. These deliveries seem to be reflective of the fact that Glatze is plagued by a raging internal struggle and is at constant odds with his identity. Franco’s performance is infuriating and heartbreaking, and the decision to cast him was a risk that ultimately paid off.
The intersection of religion and sexuality is a bloody battleground on which members of the arts, media and film industries alike have fought for decades to have their voices heard and their opinions validated. We all know the LGBT community doesn’t need another love story with a tragic ending — we’ve had enough of those to last us a lifetime, both on the screen and in real life. However, “I Am Michael” is as an exception. It is critically important to understand opposing views in order to comprehend the issue fully, and the opportunity to step into the confusion Glatze experiences is invaluable for anyone on either side of the conversation concerning LGBT rights.
Although “I Am Michael” clearly comes from a progressive viewpoint, it does not condemn the faith that ultimately steals Michael away from his former life. Instead, it focuses on the sad, true story of a deeply confused man in search of personal truth.
“I Am Michael” will hit theaters nationwide on Jan. 29.
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