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With gay marriage legalized in New York state at the same time that some Republican candidates are reaffirming their opposition to gay rights, the issue continues to polarize the country. The timeliness of this debate is crystallized in Wish Me Away — a documentary about the tortured coming out of country singer Chely Wright — which won the jury prize at the recently concluded Los Angeles Film Festival. Directors Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf have crafted a first-rate piece of documentary filmmaking. It’s the right moment for this movie to reach audiences and enhance the conversation on a contentious issue.
Wright grew up smack in the middle of the Bible Belt in Kansas. She always dreamed of going to Nashville, and she settled there when still a teenager and eventually rose to the top of the country charts. But she knew even when she was growing up in Kansas that her sexual desires placed her at odds with her family and with the very conservative music universe she hoped to conquer. She prayed fiercely for a transformation, and she dated men over the years, but she remained trapped between two worlds, which led her to the brink of suicide.
Wright allowed the filmmakers intimate access during the weeks before her decision to come out while promoting her autobiography. Family members, friends and Nashville colleagues also speak candidly on-camera. The one person who would not cooperate was Chely’s mother, and the film never quite gets to the core of this troubled relationship. On the other hand, Chely’s father (divorced from her mother) has been a strong supporter and speaks poignantly about his unconditional love for his daughter.
The film makes effective use of Wright’s music to illuminate her inner turmoil. There are some gaps in the narrative. Several scenes show Wright involved in therapeutic sessions with her minister, who is supportive of her coming-out process; one would like to know a bit more about where he fits in the Southern church, which is generally not all that welcoming to gays. During all these scenes, Wright emerges as a no-nonsense, remarkably straightforward woman. During her coming-out process, when Chely and her father appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show and the queen of television wipes away a tear, many in the audience are sure to follow suit. An end title tells us that she received hate mail from former fans, but Wright feels content that she might have made life a little easier for those who follow her.
Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival
Director-producers: Bobbie Birleffi, Beverly Kopf
Executive producers: Rhonda Eiffe, Richard Bever
Director of photography: Paul Mailman
Editor: Lisa Palattella
Sales: The Film Sales Co.
No rating, 96 minutes
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