You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Love Free or Die

The controversy surrounding Christendom's first openly gay bishop gets a well-intentioned glossing-over in Macky Alston's raggedly structured docu.

With: Gene Robinson, Rowan Williams, Barbara Clementine Harris, Robert Duncan, Otis Charles, Mary Glasspool, Jon Bruno, Rick Warren, Edward Stuart Little, Eleanor McLaughlin, Elizabeth Hess, Mark Andrew.

The controversy surrounding Christendom’s first openly gay bishop gets a well-intentioned glossing-over in “Love Free or Die,” whose title promises more drama than the film finally delivers. Chronicling Bishop Gene Robinson’s efforts to secure the Episcopal Church’s blessing for gay clergy and homosexual relationships in general, Macky Alston’s raggedly structured docu duly honors his subject’s conviction and courage, but largely sidesteps conflict and skirts the issues in an unrevealing talking-heads format. Following a festival tour, “Love” will do most of its preaching on the smallscreen.

The docu’s inciting conflict involves the Lambeth Conference, an assembly convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury every 10 years for all bishops worldwide to attend. All bishops, that is, except Robinson, whose ordination in 2003 has made him “the most controversial Christian in the world,” a designation more or less confirmed early on in the film. Visiting Canterbury despite having been barred from the 2008 conference, Robinson is invited to speak at a church, where he’s shouted down and condemned by an angry member of the congregation.

“The enemy of love is not hate, but fear,” Robinson tells his listeners after the disruption, and indeed, few ministers have so honestly and forcefully called out the church’s fear of what it doesn’t understand or care to understand. Warm and off-handedly amusing oncamera, forcefully eloquent at the altar, Robinson makes a fascinating camera subject even when the pic’s largely hagiographic thrust avoids the more intriguing particulars of his personal story and beliefs.

We see and hear much of his happy life with his longtime partner, Mark Andrew, but little of the previous marriage that produced his two daughters, both strongly supportive of their two dads. Robinson invokes Christ’s teachings of unconditional love and acceptance for all, but rarely addresses LGBT issues from a theological standpoint or delves into the views on sexuality, celibacy and monogamous commitment he described in his 2008 book “In the Eye of the Storm.”

The decision not to engage with these potentially enlightening details seems born of the misguided notion that a film with an indisputable opinion on its subject needn’t work too hard to sway its audience. By contrast, “For the Bible Tells Me So,” in which Robinson figured prominently, held much the same stance but voiced it with far more energy and emotion. Alston does interview some intelligent dissenters, including Bishop Robert Duncan, who led the opposition to Robinson’s election, and the unsympathetic but eloquent Williams. Elsewhere, however, the opposing view is largely repped by throwaway shots of the usual sign-wavers and hate-spewers; Rev. Rick Warren’s unfortunate comparison of homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia gets an airing.

Pic soon settles onto a traditional narrative track involving a vote within the Episcopal Church to consecrate gay bishops and bless same-sex relationships, occasioning brief cutaways to other gay and lesbian couples whose own no-doubt fascinating stories feel like afterthoughts here.

Perhaps Alston’s most compelling idea is that there exists a link between the church’s historic marginalization of women, particularly in barring them from roles of leadership, and its demonization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. Pinpointing this connection is Barbara Harris, the world’s first ordained female bishop, and easily the film’s most memorable figure. Harris has a wicked, bone-dry wit (“If assholes could fly, this place would be an airport,” she remarks of the Lambeth Conference) that cuts incisively to the heart of this vague, well-meaning endeavor.

Love Free or Die

Production: A Reveal Prods. presentation. Produced by Sandra Itkoff. Co-producer, Christopher White. Directed by Macky Alston.

Crew: Camera (color), Tom Hurwitz; editor, Christopher White; music, Paul Brill; sound, Peter J. Miller; associate producer, John Murphy; re-recording mixer, Reilly Steele. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 26, 2012. Running time: 97 MIN.

With: With: Gene Robinson, Rowan Williams, Barbara Clementine Harris, Robert Duncan, Otis Charles, Mary Glasspool, Jon Bruno, Rick Warren, Edward Stuart Little, Eleanor McLaughlin, Elizabeth Hess, Mark Andrew.

More Film

  • Abigail Disney on Bob Iger

    Abigail Disney Calls Bob Iger's $65 Million Compensation 'Insane'

    Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger’s total compensation for Disney’s fiscal 2018 was a whopping $65.6 million. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney, calls that sum “insane.”  While speaking at the Fast Company Impact Council, the filmmaker and philanthropist insisted that this level of corporate payout has a “corrosive effect on society.” Disney took [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International

    'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International Box Office With $30 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” led the way at the international box office, summoning $30 million when it opened in 71 foreign markets. The supernatural thriller collected $26.5 million in North America for a global start of $56.5 million. “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore about the Weeping Woman, [...]

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as one of the most reliable box office draws. Even so, [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content