In “Prayers for Bobby,” an original production from Lifetime Television, Sigourney Weaver plays Mary Griffith, an overlyÂ religious mother who goes on a journey of acceptance afterÂ she inadvertedlyÂ causes herÂ gay son toÂ commit suicide.
Based on the 1995 book of the same name by Leroy Aarons, itself based on a true story,Â the movie explores howÂ Mary disapproves of her son’s sexual orientation and tries to change him through prayer and psychiatry. After his death, she questions her faith and eventually becomes an advocate for gay rights.
NarrowingÂ down this tragic story and the many good things that resulted from it, into a mere 90 minutes isn’t easy, and at times, the film doesÂ feel very TVÂ movie (the commerical break fade-outs are painfully obvious). But, some clichÃ©d dialogue aside, Katie Ford‘s script has many powerful moments and in its second half, becomes especially heart-wrenchingly emotional. Yes, the movie is often hard to watch and Mary’s grief and suffering will bring tears to even the coldest heart.
While the film is set in the 70s, it is still as relevant today. True, twenty-six years ago, when Bobby committed suicide, there wereÂ very few options for young gays and lesbians. While this has changed through time, even ifÂ Bobby were living today, it’s unlikely his life would be any easier, as the recent passing of Prop 8 so brutally tells us. That’s becauseÂ he never found acceptance within his own family and, especially, from his mother, whose fundamentalism told her that her son was a sinner and would burn in hell unless he resisted “temptation.”Â Bobby didÂ try to change who he was for her,Â but realized it was slowly killing him and couldn’t take it anymore.
What makes this film so powerful, and helps it rise above the average Lifetime movie, is the acting. Weaver, a Golden Globe winner and three-time Oscar nominee, delivers a powerful, poignant performance in her TV debut, a performance already being deemed Emmy-worthy. She brings so much dimension to a role that could easily have been played as a caricature as MaryÂ goes through an incredibly challenging character arc from intolerantÂ Christian to guilt-ridden mother to gay rights activist.
Ryan Kelley also does a terrific job portraying theÂ range of emotions and thoughts that overwhelm Bobby, both while he is trying to live up to his mother’s beliefs, and later, when he is finally able to briefly free himself from familyÂ to discover who he is and ultimately realize his mother would never accept him. The scene of Bobby’s suicide is especially gut-wrenching.
In supporting roles, Henry Czerny isÂ fantastic as theÂ Mary’s husband, Bob Griffith; Austin Nichols isÂ nicely subtle as Bobby’s older brother; and openly gay actor Dan ButlerÂ gives a gentle performance as the Metropolitan Community Church preacher who helps Mary onÂ her way to tolerance.
There may be some flaws in Prayers for Bobby, but that doesn’t mean it won’t kickÂ its audienceÂ in the emotional gut. Some awkward dialogue aside, the filmÂ is a universal story of a child trying to please a parent, and of a parent who learns that what she wants isn’t necessarily best for her child. People will haveÂ alot to learn from this.
This is a film everyone should see. Please tell family, friends, and all those in between to watch. It might change lives. For more information on the film, or to send feedback to filmmakers, visit the movieâ€™s website.
Prayers for Bobby will play three times on Lifetime: Saturday, January 24, 9-11 PM; Sunday, January 25, 8-10 PM; and Tuesday, January 27, 9-11 PM.