Last night, PJ and I watched Save Me on dvd. It stars Chad Allen as Mark, a drug addict who also happens to be gay. When he nearly overdoses (again), his family more or less commits him to an ex-gay ministry, Genesis House. They hope to cure two ills — his addiction and his “broken” sexuality — with one stone, or something like that.

Here’s the trailer:

Overall, I really liked this movie. It’s a good, heart-felt gay independent film. I think the way to think about it is that it’s a love story set in an ex-gay ministry. As such, it could have been cliched and boring. Instead, it tries its best to be respectful of Christianity (and even ex-gay ministries) while calling into question their motives and efficacy.

I really appreciated this attempt at respect. Its success lies mainly on the shoulders of Judith Light, who is wonderful as Gayle, the co-leader of the ministry. She gives a quiet, subtle performance for most of the film, slowly revealing her history, heartache, and motivation in trying to help homosexuals “recover” from their “brokenness.” She could have made this character a monster or a joke. Instead, Gayle ends up being the heart of the film, a character we can’t help but love even as we judge her actions, goals, and efforts.

Allen is also superb as Mark. This movie shows his range as an actor more than other films I’ve seen him in have done. He opens the film high as a kite, driving around town and then having crazy hot sex in a motel room. His breakdown when he realizes that his family, especially his mother, can no longer deal with his behavior is convincing. And his slow conversion to the Christianity preached at Genesis House is well controlled. When his final epiphany comes, it comes quietly. I think this makes his character all the more believable.

Robert Gant co-stars as Scott, the man Mark finds himself attracted to in Genesis House. On the whole, Gant doesn’t have much to do in this film, which is one of its biggest weaknesses. Scott is basically there to be quietly attractive. He struggles with his own sexuality because his dying father thinks Scott’s going to hell because of it. It’s not until his father’s final rejection on his deathbed that Scott is able to see his life more clearly.

While this gives Gant’s character a little subplot, it doesn’t really give him a chance to act. His character is too good. Because he’s so “good,” he just comes across as one-dimensional and maybe a little “special.” Even when he’s shown having sex with anonymous guys in the same motel Mark used at the beginning of the film, he’s too restrained and nice about everything. I think his character would have worked better if he hadn’t been quite so good — let him realize that he enjoys sex with random strangers at first and only gets tired of it later. Something like that. He’s just too goody-goody for me. He’s not believable.

The other supporting characters are all well acted. Stephen Lang played Ted, Gayle’s husband. He sees what’s going on between Mark and Scott, but unlike Gayle he lets it happen. Robert Baker is particularly good as Lester, one of the residents of Genesis House. Lester becomes an increasingly important character over the course of the film. Baker does a great job of creating a believable guy who’s used to not being noticed.

Overall, I thought Save Me was a really good movie. Its efforts to portray its Christian characters seemed unnecessarily respectful to me but it won me over. It would have been easier to make a movie that made Gayle and Ted one-dimensional zealots. This richer, more complicated depiction of them was interesting and ultimately affecting. The movie is fairly predictable, and I wish Scott has been more a of human being, but despite these flaws I think this movie is entertaining and thought provoking. I recommend it.