I’m always torn on didacticism as a way to deliver meaning. I grew up reading Church magazines full of stories that are — let’s be honest — never true, but always well intentioned. Realizing the flaws inherent in these stories (asking your friends to swap the R-rated film for something more uplifting never works, for example) didn’t necessarily make me averse to didacticism, only hyper-aware of its usage and and wary of its sloppy overuse. Those magazines are intended for young kids in the Church, and short stories of sharing, caring, and love work best when the moral is clear, even if the content is false.
Didacticism can be an extremely powerful method, and one that works particularly well when the audience agrees with the message. My Straight Son (with an alternative [re: better] title of Blue and Not So Pink) is a recent Venezuelan film written and directed by Miguel Ferrari, an actor-turned-director whose conscience is clearly concerned with the marginalized of the world and whose narrative tendencies quickly become pulpit-pounding rhetoric. I wrinkled my nose a bit when Delirio del Rio (Hilda Abrahamz), a transsexual juggernaut, concludes the film by literally preaching acceptance and love on her new television talk show, but this may have been a way to keep tears from flowing.
With My Straight Son director Ferrari attempted the impossible: a film that comments on the plights of countless societal factions, yet feels like a clean, coherent piece. His fable often overreaches and slides into stereotypical developments as a result, but it’s admirable in its ambition and enjoyable, even infectious in its elocution. Ferrari’s reach may exceed his grasp, but this film — flaws and all — packs one hell of an emotional punch.
Still, I’m left wondering who it’s for. My Straight Son is ostensibly a tale of an openly gay father connecting with his son, but its moral grasp works hard to incorporate as many human struggles as it can…struggles that never feel entirely glossed over, just deserving of their own, deeper exploration. Audiences sympathetic and supportive of the LGBT cause will be (and were, at least in my screening) moved by My Straight Son’s earnestness and emotion, but they’ve likely experienced this story before, either on the news, from a friend, or in their own lives.
The film wants change, demands acceptance, but it may be preaching to the choir. That being said, this sort of unabashed immersion could very well be the best way to affirm this point. If the LGBT movement is crusading for anything, it’s acceptance and compassion for anyone, anywhere. Throughout the film, we’re able to see how much better the character’s lives become when exposed to these traits and this experience could very well trigger an increased acceptance and compassion in our own lives. I can imagine the film having a hugely positive effect on adolescents struggling with insecurity of any form, which makes it an invaluable entry into LGBT culture.
My Straight Son wears its educational form proudly, but the actual content is what makes it work. Diego (Guillermo Garcia), the gay father mentioned above, is a comfortable, proud, and successful fashion photographer on the brink of marrying his long term boyfriend, Fabrizio (Socrates Serrano). The two men present one of the most natural and charming gay relationships I’ve seen in film, and their hesitance to marry is entirely based around not feeling the need to conform; even when they live separately, they exist together in a safe, happy bubble, that’s impervious to society’s hesitancy regarding their lifestyle.
But it’s one thing to live amongst casual intolerance, quite another to face senseless, homophobic violence. Early on, Fabrizio is assaulted outside of a gay bar by a gang of bigoted thugs and their pitiless, one-dimensional leader. There’s very little nuance to the hatred and prejudice explored in this movie, but, again, Miguel Ferrari is painting with a broad brush. When we’re presented with total moral binaries it’s easy to tell who we’re supposed to root for and against, especially when this evil is reflected in the real world. As a whole, My Straight Son, is often played for laughs and accompanied by swelling, feel-good music, but this scene doesn’t shy away from the true horrors of homophobic violence. Curiously, the gentleman who introduced the film made sure to warn the audience that this scene was coming, creating a sort of palpable dread as the movie began.
The brutal altercation puts Fabrizio in a coma and sets Diego down a path of mourning and self-discovery; one that is complicated by the recent appearance of his 16 year old son Armando (Ignacio Montes). After five years of not seeing each other, they’re two strangers that are only connected by blood and location. Everything else needs to built from the ground up.
Most movies would focus on this central relationship, but Ferrari uses it as a mirror by which to view the very concept of acceptance and symbiosis. Armando has grown bitter of his father’s absence, and this is complicated by Diego’s homosexual status. Armando has to accept him as a father figure and a societal pariah, dealing with the prejudice that would inevitably come from being the son of a gay father and straight mother. Diego has to learn to connect with an angsty, insecure teenager while also mourning the loss of his partner.
The navigation of this relationship is interrupted by the characters orbiting through Diego’s life. Ferrari includes these metaphoric stand-ins in an attempt to make his fable apply to as many situations and lifestyles as possible. By the end of My Straight Son, we’ve explored, at least superficially, the politics of divorce on a child, teen insecurity, transsexualism, domestic abuse, parents who refuse to accept their children’s lifestyles, homophobic violence, and the bland media portrayal of each topic.
With the help of musical montages (tying together love and hate, life and death, growth and despair), charismatic performers, and contrived situations, we’ve been told how to appropriately react to these issues. My Straight Son becomes a film made of binaries, where if you don’t approach others with compassion and acceptance you’re as bad as Fabrizio’s homophobic parents or the very posse who attacked him.
Life is obviously never this clear-cut, and the subtleties of humanity would have been nice to explore. But again, that’s not what we’re here for. My Straight Son is a rallying cry for the beauty of humanity, regardless of their physical appearance, sexual preferences, or gender associations. If you disagree, you can go right to hell. With such a pointed purpose, it’s remarkable that the film flows as well as it does and manages to stay so regularly light and entertaining. It begins to drag near the end, but it’s never boring. It’s problems are based entirely in its didactic approach, but they’re overshadowed by the amount of heart, love, power and poignancy present here. Even though My Straight Son is preaching to the choir it’s an extremely life-affirming fable with a beautiful melody.