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If Nobel Son is a cartoon, Save Me is a movie of the week—and actually could have used a little villainy to boost it. During Robert Cary’s film about a Christian ministry that tries to pray homosexuals straight, you keep waiting for some comeuppance, an indication that the director and his screenwriter (Robert Desiderio, making his debut) believe that the self-appointed saviors of the story are doing harm. Its ending does preach a message of tolerance—but more toward those who believe gays will burn in hell than for people of alternative sexualities themselves.
Save Me focuses on Mark (Chad Allen), a hustler and addict who’s checked in to Genesis House, a center to cure the “gay affliction,” by his family when he’s found passed out in a motel. The home is run by Gayle (Judith Light) and Ted (Stephen Lang), husband and wife who both believe that Jesus and heterosexuality are the keys to a good life. Gayle’s dedication to the cause is a little more intense: She kicked out her teenage son when he came out of the closet and soon lost him to drugs. The lesson she learned? That she should love others the way she failed to love her son—which is good! And that the way to do so is to make them see the sinfulness of their nature—which is pretty bad.
Mark reminds Gayle of her son, so she takes a particular interest in turning him around. Mark naturally rebels at first, as would anyone who was sent to live under the ministry’s cultlike rules. Caffeine and nicotine are banned, long hair is frowned upon—even the color of the pinstripes on one resident’s shirt is questioned. (He says it’s red; it’s clear Gayle is thinking pink.) So when Mark suddenly proclaims the place and his deprogrammers “good”—his change in attitude apparently coming after one lousy afternoon of shopping and milkshakes with Gayle—it’s hard to buy. Especially considering his deepening friendship and increased physical contact with Scott (Queer as Folk’s Robert Gant), an older resident whose dying father tells him he’s so proud that Scott “beat the devil.”
Save Me’s weakness is its undercooked script, which takes leaps with character development and, for too long, seems to side with Judith and Ted. The story achieves a nice momentum when it eventually focuses on Mark and Scott’s relationship and their own conflict about living up to other people’s idea of what’s right. The actors have believable chemistry, too, and the combination briefly elevates the film into a low-budget Brokeback Mountain. A be-true-to-yourself message prevails, one that can be safely stretched to it’s-OK-to-be-gay. But the film never definitely takes the stand that homosexuals can’t be “converted,” nor condemns the people who think such a denial of self is the only way to live a respectable life. If only the story more assuredly portrayed that it’s Gayle who needs a little saving, it might have saved itself.