For Christ’s sake

Pub date June 12, 2007
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

The cultural divide between a supposed gay agenda and faith-based biases is well represented in several features within Frameline’s expansive 2007 program. Its representations run a wide gamut — just as the terms gay and Christian have come to encompass wildly disparate US communities.

On Frameline’s nonfiction side, Markie Hancock’s Born Again deftly mixes home movies, archival news footage, and more to chart the director’s long, often agonized journey away from being the perfect overachieving and overbelieving product of her Pennsylvanian parents’ staunch evangelical faith. At a Christian college and then in wide-open Berlin, Hancock began to question the conservative beliefs that had — along with her family’s approval — constituted her formative-years identity.

The devout Hancock clan members are models of tolerance compared to the subject of K. Ryan Jones’s Fall from Grace. That individual is none other than Rev. Fred Phelps, the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., a man long notorious for his congregation–cum–extended family’s outrageous displays of public homophobia. Most recently, Phelps and his followers found infamy by picketing the funerals of US soldiers killed in Iraq, a phenomenon they approve of — the notion being that these American military deaths are somehow God’s vengeance for the pipe bomb that student pranksters planted at Westboro Baptist a decade ago.

Yup, these people are cray-ay-ay-azy! Also scary. Two among Phelps’s several estranged children say he used the Bible to justify domestic violence. Unlike most hatemongers, Phelps’s small but fervent clan actually embrace the word hate. Their notion of Christianity is all hellfire and zero forgiveness or compassion. They are pseudo-Christian Antichrists.

A gentler treatment of Bible-based intolerance can be found in Rock Haven, the first directorial feature of San Francisco’s David Lewis. Its titular fictive Northern California burg (played by Bodega Bay) is where Bible college–bound Brady (Sean Hoagland) moves from Kansas with his widowed mother (Laura Jane Coles), who’s opening a Christian school. The moment Brady spies slightly older Clifford (Owen Alabado) striking Grecian postures on the beach, however, unclean thoughts — then nekkid actions — put him on a collision course with his mom’s values.

Deeper yet less serious in tone, writer-director-star Pete Jones’s delightful Outing Riley is a comedy in the Judd Apatow vein, often raucously funny without sacrificing warmth or character dimension. Jones plays Bobby, a 30-ish Chicagoan who loves his Cubs and his beer. And also his male lover — but that is a secret kept well hidden from his three Irish Catholic brothers (including one priest), with whom he’s still best buds. Their sister, Maggie (Julie Pearl), is one among several folks urging him to come the hell out, for Christ’s sake. But doing so doesn’t go down too well at first, not even with the designated bad-boy bro (the wonderful Nathan Fillion, of Waitress and Firefly). Ultimately, things turn around in an agreeable fashion that doesn’t cut corners for cheap uplift.

The result is one of those rare gay movies that should or could be shown to all the straight dudes in America who claim they "can’t really deal with that gay shit." Incredibly, Outing Riley doesn’t have a theatrical distributor yet. Catch it at Frameline, or may the Lord help ya. (Dennis Harvey)

BORN AGAIN (Markie Hancock, US, 2007). June 21, 7 p.m., Victoria

FALL FROM GRACE (K. Ryan Jones, US, 2007). Mon/18, 7 p.m., Roxie; June 20, noon, Castro

OUTING RILEY (Pete Jones, US, 2004). Fri/15, 9:30 p.m., Castro

ROCK HAVEN (David Lewis, US, 2007). June 21, 9:30 p.m., Castro