Monday, February 4, 2019

Richard Yeagley's THE SUNDAY SESSIONS: close to a no-agenda-but-truth documentary

How fascinating it is to have viewed within the same week both Boy Erased, the very good and surprisingly low-key (for awhile), based-on-fact narrative film about LGBT conversion therapy which made its home video debut this week after a limited theatrical run, and the straight-to-home video debut of the 2018 documentary by Richard Yeagley (shown below), THE SUNDAY SESSIONS, which chronicles two-years-plus in the life of a young man named Nathan Gniewek, as he goes through this conversion therapy in hopes of... what, exactly? We don't learn the answer to this until the very end of the film, and that answer, though it may surprise, is actually part and parcel of all that's come before. Yet so carefully honed and quietly considered is all we see in this doc that it's the bone-deep character of Nathan and what he thinks he most wants and/or needs that is, at last, the controlling factor.

Although conversion therapy has been completely discounted by everyone from its participants to the scientific community and various heath organizations, as we are properly informed in the opening scene of the doc -- a television interview between the self-aggrandizingly over-rated Dr. Oz and the man who leads this particular chapter of the "conversion" community, Chris Doyle, a "former" gay man supposedly converted to "straight" -- GLBT  conversion therapy is still going strong, if more surreptitiously than ever, these days.

And yet, as we watch Mr. Doyle (shown above) at work doing his conversion, his manner and his therapy often seem much more sensible and understandable -- even helpful -- that what we heard from the angrier and uglier conversion therapist in Boy Erased. The goal may be stupid and impossible (without lying to others and to oneself), but the road there, as shown here, can look awfully tempting.

Ot it might be, were Nathan, shown above and below, not such a difficult, angry, intelligent and uncompromising young man. He is also highly religious, as becomes apparent as the doc rolls onward. We are there in session after therapy session -- director Yeagley was given what looks like unfettered access to Nathan -- regarding his family, his best friend and would-be sexual partner, his theatrical pursuits and more.

From all this we learn that his family, for all its fairly typical problems, was surprisingly kind and helpful; that his best friend would seem to possess the patience of Job; and that Nathan himself is a pretty good actor, given the rehearsals and performance we see. But, what, we wonder, are those professional photos (below and further below) he's having taken: Are they for his acting resume, or maybe rather for use on Grinder. Or both?

As Nathan struggles mightily to understand what's going on and more important what he most needs and wants, the documentary reaches its conclusion. TrustMovies suspects that the GLBT community may not be so pleased with the result, as director Yeagley refuses to takes sides or hand us an easy, built-in answer. But for those viewers willing to enter the world of a religious-but-conflicted young man and stay with him as he tries to reconcile that religion with his sexuality, this is a film like few others.

Director Yeagley calls his work an observational documentary, and as such, I think it is a good example of one. It simply shows, thus forcing us to reach our own conclusion via what we've seen. And while a filmmaker can cleverly twist things by the choice of what he shows (and does not show), what we see here allows us to piece together a pretty fair picture of what is going on.

The Sunday Sessions also manages, without any overt tub-thumping, to explain quite well why The Catholic Church is today in such dire straits. It long has been but until recent decades was able to keep much of this under wraps. (The film also offers a nice rejoinder to Andrew Sullivan's pretty pointless, tiresome and obvious apologia/explanation in the current issue of New York Magazine: This is what happens when folk put their faith, not to mention their life and all else, in the hands of "god.")

When, a good way along in the film, Nathan notes, "It seems that other people's happiness comes at a much lower cost then mine," you can only nod and agree. This poor kid has allowed himself to be brainwashed, top to bottom, by religion. From First Run Features and lasting a just-right 90 minutes, the documentary hits DVD, as well as streaming via iTunes and Amazon, this Tuesday, February 5 -- for purchase and/or rental.

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