The 2015 Atlanta Film Festival opened its 39th annual event with one of the most buzzed about indie films of the year, I Am Michael. Although the film’s star James Franco was not in attendance as scheduled, his producing partner Vince Jolivette participated in a Q&A following the screening and Franco friend, actress Abigail Spencer introduced the movie before a sold-out house at The Plaza Theatre.
I Am Michael tells the complicated true story of Michael Glatze, an outspoken homosexual, gay rights advocate who ultimately renounces that identity to become a heterosexual married, Christian pastor. Franco tackles the complex role of Glatze in one of his most layered yet understated performances to date. Zachary Quinto and Emma Roberts play his two partners throughout the different stages of Glatze’s journey; Quinto as his supportive, kind-hearted lover and Roberts as his naïve, optimistic wife. The performances throughout the film are impressive, engaging, and carry the weight of the movie.
Glatze’s real-life identity crisis casts a split personality within Michael that teeters between flat and fascinating. One of the film’s many strengths is that it lets the events of Glatze’s life unfold without an overly forced agenda; however, it’s the same lack of a motive that drains energy from potentially high-charged moments. Although it is nice that first-time director Justin Kelly allows scenes to breathe and not rush, there is not enough material or context to really build upon for a more intense impact.
Jolivette confirmed that Michael’s message is open to interruption, which is also an issue in trying to find an audience target especially due to the final scene. The ending is chilling or affirming depending on one’s personal convictions and will spark many conversations; it’s those post-viewing discussions which might be the film’s greatest impact.