Film Review: Stephen Cone’s “The Wise Kids” Answers Gay Problems with Christian Platitudes
by Larry Murray
The Wise Kids debuts on DVD January 8th from Wolfe Video, where it is also available for streaming and attempts to walk the neutral line between being gay and being true to the religion of your birth. Perhaps this is why it has a 100% approval rating from critics so far on Rotten Tomatoes, which if you follow the site, you know is a impressive feat, though the audience only gives it 68%, about the same ratio of Americans that are accepting of the LGBT community. Those who disparage gays and lesbians also object to the subject even being treated in a film. They are convinced that just talking about it will make people gay. I often wonder if they consider that almost LGBT folks have straight parents, and that the choice seem to be God’s not theirs. They think it is a choice. Almost every gay person I have met has said it is not, it is a fixed attraction. You can’t pray away the gay as they say.
Early in the film The Wise Kids, Molly Kunz (Brea) asks “Did you ever think about what we’d believe if our parents taught us different things?” Brea, a preacher’s daughter is having a crisis of faith while Laura (Allison Torem) quotes Leviticus to Tim (Tyler Ross) who may be gay. He’s not savvy enough to quote Exodus 21:7 right back to her, the part that says its ok to let fathers sell their daughters into slavery.
Brea sees a different path for herself than that dictated by the all-pervasive and smothering evangelical Christian community in which she finds herself. So does Tim, who thinks he is gay but has not even so much as had a kiss. When he does find someone to kiss, it’s so awkward both act like it never happened. In the South where Baptists and evangelicals rule the roost with old fashioned zeal, that’s the attitude. In our more open and accepting Northeast, they would be welcomed at many Congregational and Unitarian churches with love and acceptance. Just different flavors of Christianity. And guess where the divorce and suicide rates is the highest? Can you say, “Praise, Jesus!” it’s wherever sexual repression and ignorance is strongest.
Stephen Cone’s film is a reflection on youth, faith and sexuality as the kids spend their last summer before college grappling with their feelings about the fundamentalist Baptist beliefs of their families, and prepping for the Passion Play at their church.
Without blasting you with polemics, the film vividly shows the difficulty of growing up gay – or just plain different – in an overwhelming evangelical Christian community. Their religion has nothing to support Tim’s feeling of isolation and emptiness. Fortunately he draws strength from the support of his Dad as he copes with the twists and turns of late adolescence — including a complex relationship with the church drama teacher who struggles with his own sexuality. And then there is the choir master, but among the older generation, everything is hidden, secretive, forbidden.
There is nothing wrong in growing up Christian, of course, as long as it does not mean you have to answer the news that someone is gay with the cliché, “Too bad, I’ll pray for you.” But if you live south of the Mason Dixon line, the Christian culture is so overwhelming in small towns, there is no surprise that anyone who dares to be different can’t wait to get the hell away from it.
At times, The Wise Kids has the feeling of a 50′s film, with flashes of their own Oberammergau as the kids prepare for a passion play with the most talented participants also being the most curious sexually. Whether it reflects reality is up for discussion.
Being released on DVD January 8, 2013 – but not yet listed on Netflix, it has had just a few screenings on both coasts. It is available in a streaming version from Wolfe Video.
The Wise Kids is neither a Christian film nor a LGBT one. In some ways it is a fictional documentary that never takes a viewpoint, never attempts to explain. It just shows kids going through the emotions of being teens wresting with sexual issues, and how totally inadequate evangelical Christianity is in actually addressing them. The youngsters are left to flounder around, with prayerful pieties and automatic condemnation and subtle shunning being the tools of Christian love.
It’s a film that seems to say that, in many parts of America, being straight, conforming, and not thinking for yourself can result in a paradise of sorts, where everyone is pretty much the same.
While that may be as close to heaven as some can achieve in this life, it sure is certainly hell for others.