A holy light doth shineth upon Save Me. Unfortunately, the radiance that bathes this gay “conversion” drama, made and set in New Mexico, is, in fact, the too-perfect glow of soap opera lighting and the first indication of the cheesy melodrama to come.
The melodrama revolves around Mark (Chad Allen of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman), a cocaine-addicted young man, who, at the film’s outset, is in a cheap Albuquerque hotel room participating in a particularly spirited bout of naked Greco-Roman wrestling with some bar pick-up. Soon after, Mark is passed out on the hotel room floor, nearly dead from an overdose. The managers of Genesis, the gay conversion ministry that his brother sends him to, speak of homosexuality in the terms of medicine or addiction and, in their parlance, Mark has just hit rock bottom.
So Mark is sent to be saved. And what could be better for “curing” the conflicted young man of his homosexual “disease” than to put him together with a group of hunky guys in the middle of nowhere with little more to do than build brightly painted birdhouses—birdhouses!—by day and room together by night. Lights out at 10 pm. Praise Jesus, indeed.
Remarkably, Mark develops a connection with a fellow gay-rehaber. The love interest is Scott (Robert Gant), a dreamy dude with prevalent pectorals and a desire to quit the “gay lifestyle” in order to please his Leviticus-quoting father. Gayle (Judith Light), the prim and icy chieftain of Genesis, sees in Mark her deceased gay son and, since she wants desperately to save him, is suspicious of Scott.
Save Me, directed by Robert Cary (Ira and Abby) and drawn from a script by Robert Desiderio, manages to be simultaneously oversimplified and nuanced. The oversimplifications are found in the characters’ motivations (boy seeks respect from father; woman wants to save stranger whereas she couldn’t save her son) and are the product of the sort of simple causational thinking that usually underlies sophomoric drama.
On the other hand, the way the issues that surround homosexuality and Christianity are handled is not nearly as crude as it could have been. Too often, Genesis’ management would be demonized as severely backward, repressed and sinister. It’s difficult not to be a soldier when the Culture Wars rage all around you. But Save Me does really well here, treating both “sides” not as sides at all but as people deserving of compassion and understanding.
Save Me plays like a cross between an after-school special, a Lifetime Network cautionary tale and an episode of Queer as Folk. Sound good? Then you’re certain to give it two snaps up with a twist.
Directed by Robert Cary
Written by Robert Desiderio and based on the story by Craig Chester and Alan Hines
With Chad Allen, Robert Gant, Judith Light, Stephen Lang and Robert Baker
96 min., NR