×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Wish Me Away

"Wish Me Away" is a fascinating portrait of Chely Wright, the first significant American country music artist to openly identify herself as gay.

With:
With: Chely Wright, Stan Wright, Jennifer Wright, Russell Carter, Rodney Crowell, Victoria Wilson, C. Welton Gaddy, Don Cusic, Howard Bragman, Richard Sterban, Meredith Vieira, Natalie Morales.

An inspirational account of coming out, “Wish Me Away” is fascinating both as a biographical portrait of Chely Wright, the first significant American country music artist to openly identify herself as gay, and as a backstage look at how an entertainer prepares to make a revelation many might view as career suicide. Winner of the top documentary prize at the Los Angeles Film Festival, pic doubtless will travel far on the global fest circuit, and very likely could score in selected theatrical outings. Don’t be surprised if doc also is used to raise funds and consciousness by nonprofit groups.

Filmed over a three-year period by documakers Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf, “Wish Me Away” introduces Wright as a small-town girl (born in Wellsville, Kan.) who fulfilled her childhood dreams of success as a country singer-songwriter in Nashville. Yet even as she developed a loyal audience, earned accolades (including the Academy of Country Music’s 1995 prize for top new female vocalist) and climbed the charts with popular singles (such as the No. 1 hit “Single White Female”), Wright was tormented by guilt and fear while hiding and often denying her sexual orientation.

During her youth in Wellsville, Wright admits in one of the pic’s affectingly blunt-spoken interviews, she prayed every night: “Dear God, please don’t let me be gay.” The product of a conservative religious upbringing — and the daughter of an unstable, affection-withholding mother — she arrived in Nashville determined to take Music City by storm. But success only intensified her determination to live a lie while in the spotlight; offstage, she shared a home with a female lover, only to find that deception and denial took a heavy toll.

Docu is structured more or less as a countdown to the day in 2010 when Wright came out very publicly — with a tell-all autobiography, a People magazine profile and appearances on “Oprah” and “The Today Show” — after months of carefully coordinated planning that, the filmmakers indicate, was only slightly less meticulous than the run-up to D-Day.

Not surprisingly, Wright occasionally has second thoughts and worries about the reactions of her fans and music-industry associates. “Wish Me Away” is especially intriguing as it offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of Wright seeking spiritual guidance and professional pointers during the weeks prior to her coming out.

The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, the avuncular president of Interfaith Alliance, is warmly supportive, but warns of a possible backlash from conservative Christian country fans. (“There’s nobody quite as mean,” he says only half-jokingly, “as people being mean for Jesus.”) Media-training specialist Howard Bragman coaches Wright in the fine art of finessing interviews. At all times, he cautions, words must be carefully chosen; for example, she should “acknowledge,” not “admit,” she is gay.

Wright proves to be an apt pupil, but reserves the right to reject certain lessons. While recording an entry for her video diary, she’s furiously foul-mouthed as she recalls the comments of an image-conscious book editor, an ardent feminist who criticized Wright for having posed in revealing attire for promotional photos and videos. Being gay, Wright defiantly insists, doesn’t mean you can’t be sexy.

Pic earns points for its evenhandedness while frequently emphasizing that members and fans of the country-music scene are neither more nor less homophobic than the general U.S. populace. In this regard, figures such as famed music producer Rodney Crowell and Oak Ridge Boys vocalist Richard Sterban come across as admirably accepting.

If the filmmakers’ overall depiction of Wright borders on the hagiographic, the singer herself doesn’t shy away from self-criticism. At one point, Wright admits to being thoroughly dishonest with herself and Brad Paisley when she pursued, then abruptly ended, a high-profile relationship with the country superstar.

Tech values are first-rate. Pic wisely includes enough musicvideo clips to prove that the lady really can sing — and, yes, look very sexy while doing so.

Wish Me Away

Docu

Production: A TVgals Media production. Produced by Bobbie Birleffi, Beverly Kopf. Executive producers, Rhonda Eiffe, Richard Bever. Co-executive producers, Fletcher Foster, Laverne Berry, Wendy L. Wood. Directed by Bobbie Birleffi, Beverly Kopf.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Paul Mailman; editor, Lisa Palattella; music supervisor, Palattella; sound, Bill Marino; graphic designer, Yorgo Alexopoulos; associate producers, William Kapfer, Ellen Krantz. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, June 18, 2011. (In Nashville, Los Angeles film festivals; Frameline, Outfest.) Running time: 96 MIN.

With: With: Chely Wright, Stan Wright, Jennifer Wright, Russell Carter, Rodney Crowell, Victoria Wilson, C. Welton Gaddy, Don Cusic, Howard Bragman, Richard Sterban, Meredith Vieira, Natalie Morales.

More Film

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Alien' at 40: Ridley Scott Explains Why 'You Don't Show the Monster Too Many Times'

    It’s difficult to imagine Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror classic “Alien” without the clear-minded, strong presence of Tom Skerritt as Dallas, the captain of the ill-fated Nostromo. But originally, the actor turned down “Alien,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary on May 25, though he thought Dan O’Bannon’s script read well. “There was nobody involved at the time [...]

  • The Poison Rose

    Film Review: 'The Poison Rose'

    It is 1978 in the City of Angels and the hard-drinking washed-up sleuth Carson Phillips is having another boozy day through its atmospheric streets. There is a hint of innate coolness and self-deprecation in his elongated voiceover intro — you might even briefly mistake Carson, played by a one-note John Travolta, for a Philip Marlowe [...]

  • 'Chambre 212' Review: A Comedy More

    Cannes Film Review: 'Chambre 212'

    Most of us, in our romantic lives, meditate here and there on the other roads we might have traveled, and movies are uniquely equipped to channel those alternate-universe-of-love possibilities. That’s the idea at the (broken) heart of “Casablanca.” And the fantasy of getting to see the turns your life didn’t take play out right in [...]

  • Zach Galifianakis Jerry Seinfeld Netflix

    Film News Roundup: Zach Galifianakis' 'Between Two Ferns: The Movie' Coming to Netflix

    In today’s film news roundup, “Between Two Ferns: The Movie” is unveiled, “Friedkin Uncut” gets a fall release and Sony Classics buys “The Traitor” at Cannes. MOVIE RELEASES Netflix has set a Sept. 20 release date for Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns: The Movie,” based on his 11-year-old talk show. Galifianakis made the announcement during [...]

  • Romanian Crime-Thriller 'The Whistlers' Bought for

    Romanian Crime-Thriller 'The Whistlers' Bought for North America

    Magnolia Pictures has bought North American rights to the Romanian crime thriller “The Whistlers” following its premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Written and directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, the film stars Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar, Antonio Buil, Agustí Villaronga, Sabin Tambrea, Julieta Szonyi and George Pisterneanu. Magnolia is eyeing a theatrical [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content