Tuesday, January 27, 2009

If you haven't seen Lifetime's Prayers for Bobby, the last currently scheduled showing is tonight -- and you don't want to miss it

Prayers for Bobby, the last currently scheduled showing is tonight -- and you don't want to miss it'>Prayers for Bobby, the last currently scheduled showing is tonight -- and you don't want to miss it'>Prayers for Bobby, the last currently scheduled showing is tonight -- and you don't want to miss it'>Prayers for Bobby, the last currently scheduled showing is tonight -- and you don't want to miss it'>>Prayers for Bobby, the last currently scheduled showing is tonight -- and you don't want to miss it'>

In Prayers for Bobby, Bobby Griffith (Ryan Kelley) and his parents (Henry Czerny and Sigourney Weaver) attend a grim session with the therapist Mary has sent Bobby to to "cure" him of his "sin." The therapist would be hilarious if she wasn't so believably scary. Lifetime has a showing of the film scheduled for tonight at 9pm ET/PT.

by Ken

Tonight Lifetime offers one last (at least for now) opportunity to see its remarkable film adaptation of Leroy Aarons' 1995 book, Prayers for Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms With Her Gay Son's Suicide. I hope anyone who hasn't seen one of the earlier showings will take advantage of it. I find it hard to imagine anyone, of any sexual orientation, not being powerfully affected.

The first half of the film tells the quite horrible story of Bobby Griffith, a northern California teen in a loving family in the 1970s (this is based on a true story), who is so damaged by the world's, and in particular his devout Christian mother's, unforgiving rejection of his "sinful" homosexuality that, despite glimpsing the possibility of living a happy life as an out gay man, he can't overcome the damning judgment of society and finally kills himself.

He leaves behind a devastated family (the relationships with his all-American-boy year-older brother and his two younger sisters are delineated with loving and poignant delicacy), and in the second half of the film his grief-stricken mother -- in a predictably wonderful performance by Sigourney Weaver -- struggles to find answers, and to her surprise finds herself pulling away from the official church answers she has always taken as, well, gospel. She finds a church that accepts and supports people like Bobby, and his family, and she finds PFLAG and a whole community. She works her way through to the understanding that Bobby shouldn't have been in need of forgiveness, because there was nothing about him that called for forgiving. The film is startlingly emphatic on this point. The world really has changed.

Judging by the voluminous comments on the Lifetime website, an awful lot of people can see some aspect of their own lives in the experience of either Bobby or his family. There are people who recognize their good fortune in having had more accepting and supportive families, but there are a lot of LGBT adults who are aware of the price they paid to survive as well as they have, and an alarming number of young people apparently now going through the struggle that confronted Bobby and finding it not a whole lot easier -- in 2009! (And there's a whole separate set of comments responding to an interview with the real Mary Griffith.)

Contrary to what you might expect given the subject matter, the film isn't preachy or didactic or heavy-handed. What it is, above all, is wonderfully human, with all the characters allowed true human depth. It appears designed to speak honestly and powerfully to both straight and gay viewers. We're never allowed to lose consciousness of the horror of Bobby's needlessly lost life, but there's also a redeeming vision of a very different outcome.

The film is bound to arouse hostility from the various communities who have personal, religious, or fake-"therapeutic" investments in the belief that homosexuality is sinful. (The apostles of "ex-gay" cures are being heard from, naturally.) This is a frontal attack on their franchise. Which should be reason enough for everyone else to see it.

I'd love to hear some reader reactions.

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At 4:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I look forward to your reviews even if I am not a big fan of some of the things you review (like opera)But this I will watch tonight.



At 5:40 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

That damned opera! What're you gonna do?

Thanks, Lee.


At 8:48 PM, Blogger lone star liberal said...

Amazing film! I'm a gay man--came of age in the late 70s in Kansas--could definitely relate to the struggle of both the boy and his family. Felt kind of stupid, in fact, crying for about the last hour of the film. Thanks so much for recommending it!

At 5:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I loved it.Wow. Especially Sigourney Weaver.My husband (who was not gay) killed himself last year and the scene where the husband comes to tell her about the suicide, totally rang true for me. There are a lot of unanswered questions about suicide and her characters search for answers was very moving and again rang true.

At 10:08 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

I don't know of anyone who's seen the film who hasn't done his/her share of crying. A lot of it has to do, I think, with a simple respect for the human dignity of all the characters.

I thought the impact, both immediate and lasting, of the news of Bobby's suicide on all the family members was really powerful. As for Mary, I imagine in the long effort to get this movie made it was always understood that a tremendous actress was going to be crucial. They sure got one.


At 1:58 PM, Blogger Marker said...

I stumbled across the movie while my BF was channel-surfing and we watched most of it . . . fantastic performance by Sigourney Weaver. Despite initial skepticism and minor quibbles with the lurid depictions of gay nightlife, we were both a little sniffly by the end.

Small spoiler alert:

How interesting that whenever Weaver's Mary Griffith is shown addressing the City Council, it's her speaking to the viewer head-on. Probably not an accident.

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Joan Price said...

What a beautiful, thoughtful post. I'm glad you recommended the book as well as the movie. When the book first came out, many gay teens gave it to their mothers, hoping that they would reach the conclusion that Mary finally did without having to deal with the death of a child first.

I hope teens, parents, teachers, and religious leaders will read the book now. Maybe we can finally end the stigma, the heartache, the fear – and the suicides.

I blogged about this book and movie myself at http://betterthanieverexpected.blogspot.com/2009/01/prayers-for-bobby-on-lifetime-tv.html. Readers posted comments with their personal stories, including tales of contemplating suicide or having a friend who went through with it, like Bobby. It’s time to help each other stop this.

I hope your readers will take a look at the author’s website, http://www.leroyaarons.com/


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