Since so many religions have condemned homosexuality for millenniums, it's no small accomplishment that the absorbing and wrenching "Save Me," written by Robert Desiderio from a story by Craig Chester and Alan Hines, views a dedicated homophobe with compassion and understanding. This is a modest, thoughtful, independent production of exceptional insight and quietly devastating power.
"This is a Christian recovery program speaking to sexual brokenness," explains Gayle (Judith Light), a woman of force and certitude, who with her wiser, less certain husband, Ted (Stephen Lang), runs in the rural Southwest a retreat for young gay men trying to go straight and to overcome any substance-abuse problems.
Gayle is speaking to Mark (Chad Allen), who has just come off an extended sex-and-drug orgy. Mark is skeptical and resistant but begins to respond to Gayle's strict but caring regimen. He also begins to form a friendship with Scott (Robert Gant), a husky, amiable guy who's been at the retreat five months.
Director Robert Cary could scarcely have gotten more out of his actors, working from a script that provides succinct yet revealing back stories for the film's five principals. Light is remarkable, with her Gayle emerging as a gifted spiritual substance-abuse healer who is tragically wrongheaded as an aversion therapist. Her costars are equally impressive, as is Robert Baker as a lonely overweight youth at once too intelligent and too vulnerable for such a regimented environment. "Save Me" is an impressive and important achievement in all aspects but one: It is weighed down -- but thankfully not sunk -- by a trite, insistent, syrupy score.
"Save Me." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. At the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 848-3500.