Save Me's plot sounds like a ripped-from-the-headlines gay play circa five years ago, but the film itself subverts expectation. Mark (Chad Allen) is a young New Mexico man who's crashing from a crystal-meth-fueled sex binge when his brother sends him to a remote desert ministry house run by Gayle (Judith Light) and Ted (Stephen Lang), two devout Christians whose mutual calling is to turn queer boys straight via the Word. A couple of Bible-study classes later, Mark has forsaken meth (with improbable ease), found the Lord, and begun a budding relationship with the star resident, Scott (Robert Gant). Seeing Mark and Scott interact causes the already taut-necked Gayle to grow even tenser, and when she blows, it's high melodrama, but also a rather wrenching sight. Directed here by Robert Cary (Ira and Abby), Light, best known for her TV-sitcom work, turns a cliché—the zealot with a secret pain of her own—into an achingly sad woman; it's one of the year's best performances. Allen, Gant, and the ever-generous Lang match her nicely, and though Save Me never quite surmounts its schematic scenario, scene by scene, beat by beat, it's pretty damn good.
Allen (left) finds a new direction with Gant.
Runs at Varsity, Fri., Dec. 19–Thurs., Dec. 25. Not rated. 96 minutes.