Producer-director Marta Cunningham’s documentary, “Valentine Road,” is a moving and infuriating look at the 2008 murder of openly gay teenager Lawrence “Larry” King by straight classmate Brandon McInerney in Oxnard. The film, which also airs Monday on HBO, should be required viewing for teens, educators and anyone concerned with the potentially devastating effects of intolerance. (The phobic, mortified McInerney shot King the day after King openly flirted with him).
Cunningham masterfully weaves a kind of cinematic memorial quilt to King, who, just prior to his death, was living in a group home/treatment center away from his adoptive parents. Emotional input from the boy’s deeply supportive friends and teachers, including several who witnessed the classroom shooting, provides much of the backbone to “Valentine.”
At the same time, the film, named for the location of the cemetery where King is buried, creates a portrait of McInerney that proves as complex and unsettling as it is unfortunate. The shooter’s long-troubled mother and seemingly reasonable half-brother offer candid accounts of the family’s downward spiral (drugs, alcohol, physical abuse, homelessness), illuminating — without necessarily excusing — how that may have fueled McInerney’s personal demons and dire actions (he is serving a 21-year prison sentence). His loyal girlfriend, also interviewed here, comes off perhaps a bit more deluded.
Cunningham also shines an incriminating light on E.O. Greene Jr. High, where the shooting occurred, and the systemic and administrative failures that may have fostered King’s demise.
The case’s prosecuting attorney and McInerney’s devoted defense lawyers, along with police detectives, hate-crime experts and several unapologetically pro-McInerney jurors, also weigh in. Archival news footage, school surveillance video and courtroom renderings round out this powerful, heartbreaking reminder of the bold, cross-dressing boy with a misplaced crush who was too often deemed the cause of his own murder.
— Gary Goldstein
“Valentine Road.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. At Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena.