Prayers for Bobby -- TV Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

Exceptional performances abound in this poignant Lifetime original about a mother who realizes too late that unconditional love for her gay son is far more important than her faith in a homophobic, vindictive and judgmental God.

Based on a true story detailed in the 1995 book "Prayers For Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms With the Suicide of Her Gay Son" by late gay journalist Leroy Aarons, the film is an undeniable tour de force for Sigourney Weaver, who portrays the rigidly devout and ultimately devastated mother with a raw intensity and passion.

Moreover, the film has all the earmarks of "important television" without crossing the line into preachy melodrama, earning its tears the old-fashioned way: via a wise, evocative script and sensitive characterizations. It feels like the kind of movie that really could make a difference in the lives of actual moms and dads struggling to come to grips with a gay child's lifestyle.

If "Bobby" comes across as a bit dated in addressing the subject, it's because it is -- by design. It opens in 1979 and covers roughly three years' time. Although it might seem there was significantly less understanding back then of homosexuality being not an illness to be cured but an orientation marked at conception, the controversy spurred by Proposition 8 in California surely tells us otherwise.

Ryan Kelley delivers a terrific, measured performance as the title character. He's the youngest son in a close-knit, religious family of six in Walnut Creek, Calif., who carries around what he's convinced is a shameful secret: He's attracted to boys, not girls. He finally divulges this to his generally understanding older brother Ed (Austin Nichols), but Ed breaks a promise by spilling the beans to the family.

Everyone comes to accept it pretty well aside from mom, Mary Griffith (Weaver), who turns to shrinks and Scripture in a desperate effort to keep Bobby from being damned to hell. It tragically leads to a suicidal leap from a freeway overpass.

A couple of old TV friends, Susan Ruttan ("L.A. Law") and Dan Butler ("Frasier"), show up during the film's second half as a sympathetic parent and priest, respectively, who help guide Mary from the darkness into the light in terms of gay understanding.

Some no doubt will recognize the proverbial gay agenda at work in "Bobby," but the truth is it's really a family drama highlighted by one woman's wrenching journey from blind belief to tolerance, insight and ultimately activism.

Scribe Katie Ford's superb adaptation is successful at connecting the dialogue dots and simultaneously delivering a profound punch to the gut. She's certainly fortunate to have a performer as dynamic as Weaver uttering her words. Overall, this represents one of Lifetime's finest moments, an original that soars above the network's typical overwrought dramatics.

Airdate: 9-11 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24 (Lifetime)
Production: Once Upon a Time Films in association with Permut Presentations and Sladek Taaffe Prods. for Lifetime TV
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Henry Czerny, Ryan Kelley, Austin Nichols, Carly Schroeder, Susan Ruttan, Dan Butler, Shannon Eagan, Scott Bailey, Rebecca Louise Miller
Executive producers: Stanley M. Brooks, David Permut, Daniel Sladek, Chris Taaffe
Producer: Damian Ganczewski
Co-producers: Steve Longi, Silvio Muraglia, David Steinberg, Mary Griffith, Leroy Aarons
Writer: Katie Ford
Based on the book by: Leroy Aarons
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Director of photography: Thom Best
Production designer: Garreth Stover
Editor: Victor Du Bois
Music: Christopher Ward
Casting: Shana Landsberg