A minor-key biopic centered around an unknowable protagonist, Justin Kelly’s I Am Michael follows Michael Glatze, who, in less than a decade, transformed from the politically active, out-and-proud editor of San Francisco’s gay weekly XY into a born-again-Christian hetero, all too eager to proselytize about the joys of praying the gay away. As embodied by gay-for-indie-pay James Franco in one of his most interiorized performances, Glatze is a frustrating figure, both to his patient longtime boyfriend Bennett (Zachary Quinto) and to the viewer. Though Michael attributes his religious reawakening to an existential realization of his own mortality following a health scare, it’s hard to track his emotional processes.
The particulars of Glatze’s story afford the possibility of something rather singular—a reverse coming-out story. As such, the film begins with images of sensuality and liberation—neon-flecked dances of freedom in gay clubs, the mild hedonism of a ménage à trois—and the mood gets increasingly somber. An intriguing side effect of this structure is that it reminds the viewer of the paradise of the formative gay culture of the late ’90s before the presumed “post-gay” ’00s (and Glatze’s “post-gay” life).
The film is careful not to judge its protagonist’s spiritual journey, but the delicately pointed direction of the final phone call between Michael and Bennett—Franco shot discreetly from behind and to the side; Quinto head on, facing camera—speaks volumes.