Love Free or Die
Dir: Macky Alston
With the Christian Church mounting a robust resistance to the possibility of gay marriage, it is perhaps the perfect time for this documentary about Gene Robinson, the first gay bishop in the Anglican communion.
The film begins telling Robinson's story at the Lambeth Conference in 2008, to which he was the only Bishop in the whole Anglican church not invited. You could forgive Robinson if he'd thrown a fit and started shouting into the nearest microphone about injustice. Instead he spent the time the other Bishops were meeting and talking meeting and talking with Parish priests, congregations and other members of society, Christian and otherwise, that he would not otherwise have had a chance to meet or minister to during his time in England. He handles himself with great good grace, even when a protestor begins yelling at him as he begins a sermon in a London church, which visibly and audibly upsets him.
The bottom line is that Gene Robinson comes across as a good man, and one who does is job extremely well, it just so happens that his partner is named Mark, not Mary, and that one fact makes him an outcast from the people he shares his vocation with.
Love Free or Die engages with issues surrounding equality within the church for LGBT people, but it doesn't become an advocacy film. Director Macky Alston takes a stance in his presentation that clearly favours Robinson and his argument with the church, but Robinson and other commentators make the case (and some also try to refute it).
To some degree I stand apart from these issues: I'm not a Christian, nor am I a member of any LGBT community. I don't need convincing on Robinson's agenda. Instead I saw Love Free or Die as an engaging film about a man whose beliefs I may not share, but who seems to represent the best version of what the church supposedly preaches. The film represents his message without feeling like it is bellowing it at you relentlessly, and gives us a well rounded view of him as a person, a priest and a political activist. Often intensely moving, this is an affecting and hopefully will be an effective film.
Yes or No
Dir: Sarasawadee Wongsompetch
Thailand's first lesbian themed film is a well meaning, but confused and sometimes condescending, mess. When Pie (Aom Sucharat Manaying) begins her life at university she discovers to her horror that her roommate Kim (Supanart Jittaleela) is a tomboy. At first, Pie insists they divide the room, but soon the two girls become closer, and even begin a relationship, but Pie's disapproving Mother, and her own fears, may get in the way.
Way overlong at nearly two hours, Yes or No starts out neatly enough, with a madcap comic tone which, while a little sugary and broad for my tastes, does provoke some laughs. It goes off the rails, however, in an interminable and increasingly awful second hour, which is horrendously preachy, explicitly telling the audience that there's nothing wrong with being a tomboy, or being gay, in a way that feels - with a view from the West - like a public service announcement from 30 years ago. It doesn't help that the leading performances simply can't meet the dramatic demands of the film. The chemistry is all but non-existent, and come the long waited for kiss both Manaying and Jittaleela seem very reluctant.
The characters are appealing in the first half, and in a supporting role as a friend of Kim's who is hopelessly in love with her Arisara Thongborisut gives a charmingly batty performance, but ultimately the film trips over its own tonal confusion and morass of preachy cliches.
The Perfect Family
Dir: Anne Renton
Anne Renton's feature directorial debut isn't especially groundbreaking, and doesn't hit any really unexpected story beats, but it still remains a sharp little comedy that deals amusingly with some pressing issues in modern society. Eileen Cleary (Kathleen Turner) has just been nominated as Catholic Woman of the Year by her local church, and is desperate to win. The judging panel (including the Archbishop of Dublin) are going to make a home visit to meet her 'perfect' family, including her former alcoholic husband (Michael McGrady) her son (Jason Ritter), who is getting a divorce, and her daughter (Emily Deschanel) who has just announced that she is A: Gay, B: Engaged and C: Pregnant.
While it does draw much of its comedy from the contrast between Eileen's dedication to a strict interpretation of her religion and the way her children's lives have turned out, The Perfect Family doesn't portray Eileen as unthinking, unfeeling, or a villain. She clearly cares about her kids, but the way she interprets what is 'best' for them is totally bound up with 60 years of moralistic teaching, and still she does try. It's nice to see a film from this perspective present a (reasonably) even handed portrait of a deeply religious person.
At the heart of the film is Eileen's relationship with her daughter Shannon, and Turner and Deschanel are both excellent, giving the drama, despite its predictability, appreciable emotional weight. When the film goes broader it hits most of its comedic targets. Turner relishes the humour, as does a brassy Elizabeth Pena (as Shannon's new Mother in Law), who lends Eileen a tracksuit which gets perhaps the film's biggest laugh. Sharon Lawrence also stands out among the supporting cast as Eileen's seemingly perfect rival for Catholic Woman of the Year.
I wish at least one moment, one plot point, had gone in an unexpected direction, but The Perfect Family is fun and well made, and while it perhaps won't stick long in my mind, I had fun watching it.
Dir: Steven Williford
I saw much, MUCH worse films at LLGFF than this one, but not one that proved as disappointing. The Green is about a teacher named Michael (Jason Butler Harner) whose livelihood and relationship with long term boyfriend Daniel (Cheyenne Jackson) are both threatened when he's accused of an inappropriate relationship with one of his students (Christopher Bert). The small town he lives in rejects Michael, and even friends begin to become suspicious of him.
The Green, for its first hour, is really a film about mess; about how one event - tiny and misinterpreted - can spiral out of control and come close to destroying a person's life. It's an incredibly relevant tale, given the paranoia that often surrounds male teachers and the sensationalism and witch hunting that even a whiff of an accusation of pedophilia can arouse in sections of the press and media. Jason Butler Harner, who impressed in Clint Eastwood's underwhelming Changeling, is excellent as Michael, giving an utterly compelling portrait of a man who can't understand how his life has begun to fall apart around him, and Cheyenne Jackson lends equally nuanced support as the boyfriend who wants to believe him, but struggles with that and with what the situation is doing to their lives. More impressive support comes from the film's women; Illeanna Douglas as Michael's best friend, Julia Ormond as his lawyer, and aren Young as the Mother of his accuser.
Disappointingly, immediately after its very best scene, the film utterly collapses, with a storm outside providing an incredibly forced metaphor, and the film subsequently rushing to tie up every loose end in a credulity straining series of events that ignores every shred of the quiet drama with which it had treated its subject matter up to that point. It is a truly spectacular unraveling, and very nearly destroys every bit of good will the film had built up. I'm baffled that the first sixty and last thirty minutes of the film could have come from the same hands, but for those first sixty minutes The Green is still (JUST) recommendable.