Michael Selditch's solid film of Ken Hanes' play "Fixing Frank" is an effective adaptation of a play that bristles with intense portrayals. A gay psychotherapist, Dr. Jonathan Baldwin (Paul Provenza), becomes outraged at the damage that psychologist Dr. Arthur Apsey (Dan Butler) has done to gay men -- he claims he can make them straight. So Dr. Baldwin enlists his lover of more than six years, Frank Johnston (Andrew Elvis Miller), a freelance journalist, to go undercover as a patient and expose Apsey as a dangerous fraud in an article.
Baldwin and Johnston have underestimated the force of Apsey's personality and intellect. Apsey claims not to be practicing either Christian or aversion therapy; he's simply preaching mind over the matter of sexual orientation. Johnston is a likable fellow caught between two stronger personalities. Apsey asks Johnston if there were a pill that could change him from gay to straight, would he take it -- and then produces such a pill. It's a potent question to pose to any gay man, especially a young man with his whole life before him, who may not yet have come to terms with his sexual orientation.
On a second viewing, three years after an Outfest Wednesday presentation, "Fixing Frank" remains potent. Yet Baldwin all the more clearly seems foolish, not to mention unethical, in what he asks of Johnston, who has only written features on subjects like antique shows and fall colors and has neither the experience nor the temperament for risky investigative journalism. It would seem that Baldwin, in his understandable frustration in trying to nail Apsey, has been blinded to his lover's lack of suitability for the undertaking. Still, "Fixing Frank" is "good theater," and in the writing and in Butler's quietly chilling, ever-so-civilized portrayal, Apsey emerges as a veritable Svengali.
Pressure builds on the increasingly confused and conflicted Johnston, but it is unfortunate that Selditch and Hanes address neither the possibility of fluidity in sexual orientation nor bisexuality.
It would have gone a long way toward keeping Baldwin from seeming as manipulative and doctrinaire as the man he wants to bring down.
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Adult themes, language
A Michael Selditch presentation of a Maximum Vacuum production. Producers Michael Selditch and Randi Snitz. Screenplay by Ken Hanes; based on his play. Cinematographer Tamas Bojtor. Editor Randi Snitz. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
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