Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Religion as the "closet" in Jennifer Gerber's interesting gay melodrama, THE REVIVIAL

The gay closet, as it turns out, can take a number of forms with which we might not immediately associate it. One of these is religion, particularly when the gay in question happens to be a preacher of it. Such a fellow is our non-hero, Eli, who has taken over his little town's church (Baptist, I think) from his late father, who was -- from all we hear -- much more popular, offering up the fire-and-brimstone kind of sermon our country's Southern folk love to hear. Eli, who is married to a wife who is soon to be a mother, prefers a more thoughtful and, well, "progressive" kind of preaching. You can imagine how well that goes down with his congregation.

As adapted (from his own stage play) by Samuel Brett Williams, shown below, and directed with intelligent, straight-ahead force by Jennifer Gerber (shown at left: This is her first full-length work), THE REVIVAL proves to be one of the better gay-themed melodramas we've seen of late. Mr. Williams, with his intelligently withholding writing that does not allow us to understand or fully know most of these characters until the finals scenes (the execution of which Ms Gerber's restraint and skill helps mightily), has concocted a very interesting melodrama
that explores the lengths to which a man will go in using his religion to better hide his sexuality.

Most organized religions, particularly in the Southern USA, do not accept homosexuality as something natural and good, but there are all kinds of ways around this -- as so many of our Southern "preachers" and their past scandals have shown us -- from out-and-out lying and hypocrisy to burying this "sin" so deeply within that even the sinner can sometimes ignore it.

Nothing works forever, of course, and truth, as they say, will out.

When a good-looking young drifter (Zachary Booth, above) appears at church one day -- not for the sermon but for the pot-luck lunch held afterward -- our "kindly" minister (David Rysdahl, below) of course wants to help. First offering that meal and then later a temporary roof over the fellow's head, before you can say, "But I'm not gay," this new twosome is locking lips and then other parts of the anatomy.

Now, if this part of the tale were all that's on offer, we could yawn and say been there/done that. We also meet and spend time with some interesting subsidiary characters, too, such as Trevor (nice job by Raymond McAnally, below), the good-'ol-boy pal who consistently tries to get Eli to preach what the congregation wants. Trevor is , in fact, raising money for a big "revival" style meeting at the church -- which Eli is dead set against.

Eli's put-upon wife -- a low-key but very smart performance from Lucy Faust, below -- comes into her own during the course of the film, as well. It is her character of whom we learn perhaps the most about by film's end.

There is even one member of the congregation -- played with off-key charm by Stephen Ellis, below -- who is desperately in love with his first cousin. While this situation might initially seem merely a bit of comic relief, it serves a deeper purpose in showing us how poor (uncaring, really) a minister our anti-hero actually is.

By the time the "gay love" situation has worked itself out -- and not probably in either of the ways you will expect -- several other situations and characters have come heavily and surprisingly into play. The Revival is a much stronger and more forceful piece of gay-themed film-making than TrustMovies expected. Take a chance on it.

From Breaking Glass Pictures and running just 85 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, January 19, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3. The DVD will be released the following week on Tuesday, January 23.

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