James Franco stars as Michael Glatze, a man who went from gay activist to a Christian pastor in love with a woman.
If the purpose of film is for people to question their society and how they see themselves within it, then I Am Michael is one of the most successful in recent memory. At the nexus of Justin Kelly’s film is the battle between homosexuality and Christianity. Can the two exist in harmony or are they each at irreconcilable odds with one another?
I Am Michael asks this question through the turmoil of its central character Michael Glatze (James Franco). Glatze was a gay activist in the 90s in San Francisco and the film is based on a 2011 NY Times article about him. He’s the editor of XY, a gay magazine, and he and his partner Bennett (Zachary Quinto) travel across America to document the struggles of growing up gay.
But Glatze begins to question his activism and his lifestyle. He starts to have recurrent panic attacks and lives in crippling fear that he will inherit is father’s heart condition and die suddenly. He is unable to reconcile his spirituality with his homosexuality and begins to believe that he will never to join his parents in heaven. He turns his back on his community and decides to become a pastor, believing that he is no longer homosexual.
Bennett tries to support Michael but is eventually left to fend for himself. The dismay he feels is exacerbated by Michael’s activist personality remaining strong, but his stance taking a 180 degree turn. A man who once tried to help young gays now writes on his blog, 'I was a heterosexual person with a homosexual problem. I took care of that problem'.
Shot beautifully, with an interesting electro soundtrack by Tim Kvasnosky and Jake Shears reminiscent of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, the film is aesthetically polished. There’s a nice little nod to the gay activism of the 90s, with references to Matthew Shepard – a tragedy that would have rocked a community still finding its feet.
The film doesn’t appear to criticise the path that Glatze took, but instead unpack and understand how someone could make this transition. It could have easily taken the moral high ground but works because it doesn’t.
3 ½ stars
I Am Michael
Directed by Justin Kelly
240 mins, USA, 2015
Melbourne Queer Film Festival
16-27 March 2017
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level