Monday, May 28, 2012

CHELY WRIGHT: WISH ME AWAY--Bobbie Birleffi & Beverly Kopf's new doc tracks the coming-out of a country-music star. Yikes!

The new documentary, CHELY WRIGHT: WISH ME AWAY -- about a famous country music star who, after years of success, including a couple of hit songs, one of which soared to number one on the charts -- is fascinating for a bunch of reasons. It offers the fullest view I've yet seen of what publicly admitting yourself to be gay is like for a celebrity, and in doing so tackles not just the public persona involved, but the private person, that scared little girl with a need to be loved underneath all the "personal appearances," the PR, the glitz and the ever-present fans. The better-known you are, the more difficult coming-out has to be.

And Ms Wright (above) -- near the top of her game as a beautiful, young country music performer -- would seem to have an awfully lot at risk, should she lose her fan base and the approval of the country western powers-that-be.

The film's co-directors,  Bobbie Birleffi (above, right) and Beverly Kopf (above, left), yank us into things by letting us see some of the private video diaries kept by Chely (the Ch in her name is pronoun-ced as Shelly, rather than as the ch in chocolate). These videos, one moment from which is shown below, are full of her doubts and fears, as well as her hopes, and they make a rather startling contrast to the public performer we see elsewhere in the film.

From these diaries, and from the usual talking heads -- which include everyone from close family members (interestingly enough, mom is not among these) to prominent figures in the music business, and even Chely's pastor, who has some of the more interesting, even surprising, things to tell her (and us), we get a rounded feel for the public performer and private woman, as well as for the milieu in which she labors.

The performer makes it clear that she's for god and country (above) -- she's in country music territory, after all -- and she also lets us in on how badly she feels about her inability, when she was still closeted, to be honest and open with some of the males in her life, one of which is shown below. (TrustMovies must admit at this point that he knows little about country music or its performers; if he did, he'd probably be able to identify the guy below.)

The film is full of succinct, often funny nuggets: her dad tells us that the family always knew Chely would be a performer because, as a little girl, "she used to sit on the can and sing Loretta Lynn songs." From an early age, this girl knew, not only that she was "different," but what that difference meant. One of the saddest moments comes when she tells us, "I made a deal with god: 'I won't act on this, and that will give you time to take it away'." Good luck.

The filmmakers take us up to and through the media circus that results when Chely finally does the deed, and we learn the outcome of all this -- so far, at least -- both personally and professionally. Birleffi and Kopf had access to Ms Wright for three years, and they watched and filmed her struggle. It was time well spent. The resulting 96-minute movie (cut down from a longer two-hour version that evidently played some festivals) should prove time equally well-spent for viewers of this remarkable history.

I'd like to say that Chely Wright; Wish Me Away might result in more celebrities coming out of the closet. But because the film is done with such honesty, showing the pain, the struggle and the not-always-so-fabulous results, I am not at all sure. You put your career on the line when you make a move (and a movie) like this, and when your primary audience is composed mainly of today's fundamentalist Christians, who have not even a nodding acquaintance with the actual teachings of their supposed prophet, what can you expect?  As one of the music men who understands this audience all too well puts it: "There's nobody quite as mean as someone who's being mean for Jesus."

The movie opens this Friday, June 1, in New York City at the Quad Cinema, with further openings across the country in the weeks to follow -- just in time for, you guessed it, those ubiquitous Gay Pride parades. Click the link ahead to view the complete listing of scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters.

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