“Save Me” was filmed on location in the middle of a metaphorical minefield and escaped unscathed. You’ve never seen a better balancing act at the circus.
With emotions running so hot on both sides there may not be a market for a fair and balanced (not in the Fox News sense) drama, even a good one like “Save Me,” about a Christian center that attempts to “cure” homosexuals.
Since out and proud actors Chad Allen and Robert Gant play two of the lead roles you needn’t fear that “Save Me” will take a homophobic stance, but the surprise is that the Christians aren’t thrown to the lions. Instead of one-dimensional villains, Gayle (Judith Light) and Ted (Stephen Lang) are portrayed as decent, well-meaning (if fallible) human beings.
They run Genesis House, a good name for a place that offers men a new beginning. The residential facility is described as “a Christian recovery program specializing in sexual brokenness.” Gayle’s 17-year-old gay son overdosed eight years ago and she chose to blame his orientation rather than his addictions. Ted began as her employee and became her second husband.
Mark (Allen) is dumped in Genesis House by his family, who can’t deal with him anymore. His combination of problems reminds Gayle of her son, so she takes a special interest in him.
So, for other reasons, does longer-term resident Scott (Gant), whose issues revolve around trying to please his dying father. Mark settles in and the program actually does him good in terms of recovery from his addictions. As far as becoming de-homosexualized, most of the guys seem to be going through the motions on that one.
An exception is Bill Prior (William Dennis Hurley), a “fifth-phaser,” defined as “those who’ve accomplished what they set out to do.” He’s engaged to a woman he’s been dating for a year. Who knows? Maybe it will work, but he admits to “having thoughts”? about Mark.
The most sympathetic character is Lester (Robert Baker), Mark’s roommate, whose plumpness gives him low self-esteem (or did the egg come before the chicken?). He’s “never acted on my sexual brokenness,” but knows what he’s attracted to. He provides comic relief, like a sad clown, but is also the closest thing to a romantic in the story.
The weeks and months go by, with individual and group therapy, church on Sunday, constructive activities like making birdhouses to sell for charity, and unspoken lust building up in Mark and Scott. Ted encourages their “healthy, nonsexual friendship” while Gayle worries about it.
Genesis House is on thin ice financially and Gayle frequently has to put economic necessity ahead of her sincere beliefs and emotional problems. Light stays in a low-key mode because the script, written by her husband, actor Robert Desiderio, from a story by Craig Chester and Alan Hines, doesn’t encourage heavy histrionics; or if it did, director Robert Cary, whose previous films, “Anything but Love” and “Ira and Abby,” were lighter in tone (and deserved a wider audience), chose to take a higher road.
“Save Me” could have been a crowd-pleaser if there had been a screaming climactic confrontation followed by Gayle getting hit with a drop of water and melting, but then it wouldn’t have been respectful of all its characters, as well as a film you can show to conservative Christians and possibly have them learn from it instead of being offended. On the other hand, open-minded gays can watch it and not throw the baby Jesus out with the bilge water.
If you want the other kind of movie, see Jamie Babbit’s “But I’m a Cheerleader.” Had they been made in reverse order it would have been seen as a satire of “Save Me.”
It’s ironic that the screenplay mentions the 12 Steps but not the Serenity Prayer, which is really what it’s about. While most of her charges at Genesis House learn to accept the things they cannot change and gain the courage to change the things they can, it’s Gayle who lacks the wisdom to know the difference.