In Save Me, Mark (Chad Allen), drug-addict and homosexual (both, natch), is presented with a choice: dry out at a Christian homosexuality-rehabilitation center or do the detox program at “County General”. He opts for the former. (Is County General the hospital from Jacob’s Ladder or something?) Nearly a decade ago, But I’m a Cheerleader tackled the absurdity of conversion therapy for laughs but, two terms of George Bush later, Save Me plays it straight. Apparently, such fringe outfits are no longer laughing matters, but it’s still hard enough to take Save Me seriously without director Cary adopting a lifeless television-aesthetic to boot, from shot-countershot ad nauseum to having the actors stand around and do nothing but wait to talk to other characters.
As the film gives homosexuality, or “sexual brokenness,” the Lifetime Movie Network treatment, it stands to follow that Judith Light (Wife, Mother, Murderer) would co-star; she plays Gayle, the head counselor at gay camp. Light stands out among an unremarkable cast, but her largely competent performance poses a problem. Mark is an unsympathetic character, at first crude (“who do you have to fuck to get a cigarette around here?”) and, later, spineless. (It doesn’t help that Allen makes the most obvious acting choices and executes them histrionically.) Against the unappealing Mark, Gayle charismatically dominates the film. But, disturbingly, she’s the film’s anti-homosexuality spokesperson.
American History X meant to condemn white supremacy, and Scarface (1983) tried to demonstrate that tragedy inevitably follows a life of crime, but both films more effectively promoted (unintentionally?) the quasi-romantic lifestyles and philosophies they intended to denounce. Similarly, Save Me comes to reject (partially, anyway) its anti-homo rhetoric, but it has reveled in it too long to change course convincingly. Sure, it lets two of its homosexuals ride off together into the sunset, but it otherwise abounds in reproving straight characters and guilt-laden gays. Mark weepily begs for forgiveness while pressed against Gayle; a relapsed gay pulls up to the re-orientation center in his black pick-up and Cary cues the villain music. But that’s not the worst of it. While it’s troubling that the film sympathizes with Gayle, Save Me’s most egregious error is that it thinks it can refuse to pick sides—that it can say that being gay is good, but conversion therapy is good, too, as though gays simply need to learn to respect the arguments of the other side. Save Me’s homo hating is offensive, but its cowardice is despicable.