I had heard a lot about the buzz surrounding Lifetime's newest Made-for-TV-movie, Prayers for Bobby. Gay son kills himself which leads heartbroken mother to open her horizons and become an activist for the queer community. It seems like a story we've all heard before, and given Lifetime's pension for sappy, over-sentimental fare, I wasn't too keen on watching it. Another movie about the tragic death of gay person to "educate" the masses and tickle our tear glands? I've frankly become a bit fatigued by the media's seeming delight in producing films that kill us in pursuit of their own education.
However, what nudged me over the edge was the promise of much beloved, Sigourney Weaver cast as Mary Griffith. While cautiously optimistic about the film, I sat down with my DVR and got to see what all the hullabaloo was about.
Now, I'm not sure how others reacted to this film... but it really struck a chord with me. Based on a true story, the film opens in 1979 to the happy Griffith home: Husband Robert (Czerny) Wife Mary (Weaver), and children Ed (Nichols), Bobby (Kelley), Joy (Schroeder) and Nancy (Eagen). The gay cat comes out of the bag surprisingly early, when Bobby ponders suicide by aspirin. His older (and hunky) brother Ed discovers Bobby laying on his bed with a bottle of pills a little too conspicuously scattered on the floor of their shared room. Thus launches the very religious Griffiths campaign to cure Bobby of his illness.
Long story short, none of Mary's efforts see much fruit. And it becomes obvious that while Bobby's family is very loving, love is not nearly enough to repair the rift between Bobby and the rest of the Griffiths. Feeling alienated by his increasingly prison-like existence under his parents' roof, Bobby finds salvation in his fabulous, free love, and supportive cousin, Jeannette. Convincing him to spend some time away from his family, Jeannette hosts Bobby for a two month visit to her hometown, Portland. Here, Bobby meets Jeannette's friend David (played by the very handsome Scott Bailey) whom he shares a quick and passionate romance.
Bobby returns home to his family, only to announce that he intends to move to Portland and proclaim his newfound romance with David. In a particularly painful scene, Mary rejects her son sending Bobby away in tears, reeling from the rejection.
All seems to go well, until Bobby becomes distraught at a seemingly unfaithful boyfriend and the lack of his familial support system, kills himself by leaping from a highway overpass, into oncoming traffic. The suicide scene was more than a little uncomfortable to watch, especially knowing that these events indeed took place, along with the noticeable Christian symbolism with Bobby's Christ-like pose as he falls to his death.
Bobby's death feels sudden and early in the film, but so was his life. The rest of the film documents the grief of the Griffith family, each grieving in a different way. Ed, Bobby's older brother becomes violent when he hears the news and in the months to come, while his younger sister Joy seems to close in on herself. Mary takes Bobby's death the worst, almost obsessively searching for answers that will secure Bobby's place in the afterlife. Questioning her faith, she finds herself seeking answers from a minister of the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church. From there, Mary finds her activist feet and begins her long crusade to end the suffering of queer youth at the hands of their parents and churches.
While the actual writing of the film could have easily been preachy and overbearing, the skillful performances by the actors, especially Weaver and Kelley give the ring of truth to the dialogue. The only performance I found a bit lacking was Scott Bailey's well intentioned but clunky portrayal as Bobby's boyfriend David. I felt that Bailey and Kelley didn't have a promising chemistry on screen, which made me question later scenes between grieving boyfriend and mother.
Not enough can be said about what Sigourney Weaver brings to the table. In a lesser actor, recitations of scripture and evangelical talking points would have come off as stiff and unrealistic, but as I watched, I believed in Mary's conviction to her faith. I'm crossing my fingers that she'll get an Emmy nod out of this.
Now I know that I'm a bit of a sentimental schmuck. I cry at Hallmark commercials for crying out loud. But I was surprised with how teary I was through the film. Part of it was clearly reliving my own painful journey out of a deeply evangelical Christian closet, and contemplating the darkest moments in my own childhood where I perhaps pondered suicide, or at least the prospect of never being born. I saw so much of my own story and my own family in the Griffiths that I couldn't help but be moved. The film isn't perfect, especially not the strange loose-strings-tied post-mortus semi-hallucinogenic reunion between mother and son/innocent bystanding look-alike. But all in all, well done Lifetime!
In case you missed it this weekend, you can catch it once more on Lifetime, Tuesday Jan. 27th, 9pm EST.