Save Me

First Run Features,

Robert Cary

Robert Desiderio
Story by Craig Chester and Alan Hines

Chad Allen,
Robert Gant,
Judith Light,
Stephen Lang, Robert Baker, Paul Scallan

Unrated, 96 minutes

Sex, Lies And Leviticus
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted Online, January 2009

I'm going to come right out and say it. I have nothing but contempt for all those Ex-Gay Ministries and I believe they are one of the biggest scams ever perpetrated on the public. They have been condemned by every psychiatric and health organization in this country (except those funded by the Religious Right and all those fascist Family Councils) and they cause more harm than good. How does it help to strengthen the family by forcing people to repress their very identity and then pretend to be someone they are not? Reparative therapy only works when there is something to repair. Being gay is not a disease than can be cured, no matter what these sanctimonious charlatans say.

Which brings us - now that my opening rant is out of the way - to Save Me, a thoughtful new film (directed by Robert Cary from a story by Craig Chester and Alan Hines and a screenplay by Robert Desiderio) that keeps an open mind and tackles this subject head on. Save Me is a gentle love story that slowly develops against the backdrop of an Ex-Gay retreat. Mark (Chad Allen) is a gay party boy who hits rock bottom following an almost fatal drug overdose. His brother arranges for Mark to spend some time at Genesis House for some much needed rehab and to cure him of his homosexuality.

Genesis House is ruled with an iron fist by Gayle (Judith Light) and her husband, Ted (Stephen Lang). "We are a Christian Recovery Program," Gayle tells Mark on his arrival, "Specializing in sexual broken-ness." Gayle fiercely believes that she is doing the right thing but, at the same time, she is far from delusional. "You have the genes the Lord designed for you," she tells Mark, "But you have the choice to live in His image." There's that word again. Choice. She freely admits that she cannot change him but insists that she can help him find what she believes is the true path to righteousness - which, of course, means giving up being queer.

Mark is a mess and Gayle has a good chance to succeed in her efforts to brainwash him. But Mark's real chance for salvation lies elsewhere and that is where Scott (Robert Gant) comes in. Scott has been at Genesis House for five months, battling his own demons as he struggles to "fix" his sexuality in order to please his ailing and homophobic father. This is not a spoiler; it doesn't take a crystal ball to figure out that Scott and Mark are going to fall in love. Gayle watches their growing friendship with disdain and does everything in her power to sabotage it.
What is interesting about Save Me is that, unlike films such as But I'm A Cheerleader, the ministry is not ridiculed. This might be troubling to some viewers who would rather watch something like, for example, Emmet's hilarious near brainwashing at an Ex-Gay church during the first season of Queer As Folk or Jack trying to pick up Neal Patrick Harris at an Ex-Gay meeting on Will and Grace. But the approach here is a little more subtle and could, perhaps, even convince some people from the other side that being gay is not something that can be shut off by flipping a switch. Documentary filmmaker Arthur Dong relates in Fabulous: The Story Of Queer Cinema, that his interviews with homophobic zealots for Family Fundamentals (2002) were not designed to give these fanatics a voice but in order for us to know our enemy. Understanding where they are coming from, Dong insisted, is the only way that any meaningful dialogue can ever be initiated between two opposing sides.
It goes without saying that there are many gay people, myself included, who have had enough of the other side and don't want to hear what they have to say. We know we are queer and that no amount of proselytizing is ever going to change that. Nevertheless, making Gayle into a cartoon might make us laugh more but showing her as a caring - though misguided - crusader is, ultimately, a lot more believable and scarier. She disowned her own teen-aged gay son when he came out to her and, when he died of a drug overdose five months later, she decided to dedicate her life to saving others from the same "affliction." Her drive, of course, is ridiculous but it is also terrifying. Remember how Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest could "castrate" one of her male psychiatric hospital patients with a single well-timed comment?
Gayle refrains from hell and brimstone sermons, and she is an expert at showing a caring demeanor, but she will use guilt and any means at her disposal to get her way. She's all smiles and pretends not to be judgmental, but she is, Blanche, she is. Judith Light's nuanced performance is a marvel and you might even, at times, find yourself feeling a bit of reluctant sympathy towards her. But yes, her character is a bitch. I guarantee that you will revel in her climactic breakdown when she does gets her well-deserved comeuppance.
Save Me begins with a montage that cross-cuts between Mark taking drugs while having mad sex in a motel room - and the members of Genesis House singing a hymn in church. Two opposing worlds are introduced and, at the same time, contrasted. The morning after scene in the motel between Mark and his trick establishes that Mark is, indeed, fucked up and needs help. The irony is that he does receive the help that he needs for his addiction at Genesis House but at the cost of being forced to shed his sexual identity - which, despite what Gayle thinks, is not what needs to be fixed.
Getting back to the love story, Mark and Scott will bond in many subtle ways and you will be rooting for them to get beyond the bullshit they are being fed. You will also want to smack Gayle upside the head every time that she tries to get between them and many of these scenes are quite humorous. Gayle is like the old nuns from the Catholic grade school I attended in the 60s; she even tells one of the lads to get a haircut. (His very apropos reply is "Jesus had long hair.") Another young man is corrected when he crosses his legs like a woman. When Ted refers to those who have been there the longest as "Fifth Phasers," Mark asks "What is this? Scientology?" When one young man "graduates" from their institute, another nudges one of his comrades and says "He'll never make it."
Out actors Chad Allen and Robert Gant are both terrific as Mark and Scott. The love story that develops between them is quite touching. These are two men in pain and they need each other. Like Ben Bruchner, the character that Gant played on Queer As Folk, Scott is also the ultimate nice guy who most would probably kill to have as a boyfriend and Gant excels in the role. His story is actually more interesting than Mark's and his epiphany, when he realizes that the only reason he did this was to please his uncaring father, is dramatic and heartfelt. His climactic confrontation with Gayle, when he asks her if she's ever really listened to the words in the Bible, is one of the most powerful scenes I have ever witnessed in a queer film.
For the most part, Save Me is a very satisfying and thought provoking film. It is beautifully filmed and acted. There are many dramatic peaks scattered throughout and its pace seldom drags. Viewers will relish the small ways in which the guys grow closer while Gayle loses control. One of the more effective devices employed was a series of monologues by the different men, delivered to an unseen counselor, in which each bares their souls and admits that they still have sexual feelings for men. Save Me verges on the melodramatic at times and, unfortunately, also commits my cardinal sin of sappy background music and really banal songs accompanying scene transitions, but this isn't enough to derail the film.

Though some might wish that Gayle was more of a whack-job like the Reverend Fred Phelps, the film wouldn't have been as interesting. Save Me does a nice job tackling a polarizing issue and I doubt that viewers will ever forget it. Its message is one of love and it is impossible, at the end, not to have a lump in your throat when Mark responds to "May the Lord be with you" by saying, with certainty, "He is." You will also be creeped out when a new arrival comes to take Mark's place and the cycle continues. It's a little like the end of a horror film, such as The Omen, where the demon child survives - Gayle might have lost her battle with Mark and Scott but she still survives to do damage to others and that is scarier than any slasher movie.


Chad Allen also appears in:
Hollywood Je t'aime
Sole Journey

Robert Gant also appears in:
Queer As Folk

A Portrait of James Dean: Joshua Tree, 1951

More on Craig Chester:
Adam & Steve
Swoon (DVD)

See also:
Fixing Frank


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