Fair Haven

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday March 3, 2017

'Fair Haven'
'Fair Haven'  

Gay conversion therapy remains a controversial topic that has rarely been explored onscreen. These religious-based "treatments" are based on the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder and against God's plan.

Robert Cary's excellent 2007 film "Save Me" took place at a Christian retreat (i.e., an ex-gay ministry), and the still-unreleased James Franco starrer, "I Am Michael," chronicles the true story of a gay activist who was "saved" and turned into a heterosexual crusader.

"Fair Haven," a potent, stirring new film, does not remain focused on the therapy itself but instead uses it as a springboard to tell a much more intimate story about a father and a son, as well as a burgeoning young man and the love he came dangerously close to destroying.

Mesmerizing newcomer Michael Grant plays James, an aspiring concert pianist whom we first see arriving home after his long stretch in therapy. He's photographed mostly in shadow, on a bus with lots of greenery whizzing by, while the evocative and enveloping piano score lets us know this is going to be a serious sit.

His remote and frustrated father, Richard, picks him up and James immediately offers, "I'm better now. I think it helped."

The 19-year-old is immediately informed that his dad used his college money to pay for his mother's funeral expenses, as well as his treatment. James is justly upset, and suggests to his dad that he sell his Vermont apple farm. His father refuses, telling his son he wants him to take over the farm one day, despite knowing his son's true passion as well as his hope to attend Berkeley College of Music in Boston.

"Why can't you see I'm just trying to do what's best for you," his father bellows. These words become a haunting refrain.

While making an apple delivery he sees his former boyfriend, Charlie (a terrific Josh Green), and becomes quite violent. There is obviously a deep connection between the two, but James is still operating in "cure" mode, meaning he cannot be around Charlie. They do agree to co-exist together, civilly.

So he turns to church and begins dating the reverend's daughter, Suzy (Lily Anne Harrison), a ridiculously sweet character who is impossible to dislike.

In a telling scene, Richard sees his son all dressed up and about to go have dinner with Suzy and her parents. He seems relieved and offers, "Your mom would be proud of you." The subtext here reeks of, "I'm so glad you're not queer anymore."

When James finds out that Charlie has been badly beaten while walking home from work, he insists on driving him home instead, which leads to a release of his repressed desires.

Here, the script takes a refreshing turn against the norm, and instead of violence and melodrama settles for something more resonant and sincere.

Peppered throughout the narrative are sessions between James and his therapist (played effectively by Gregory Harrison), where notions of temptation and desire are challenged. James is told that his love for Charlie was strictly carnal, despite his feelings to the contrary. "Sin makes us feel good while we're committing it, but that doesn't mean it's good for us."

"Fair Haven" is anchored by a quiet and thoughtful performance by Grant, who carefully mines the balance between James' inner anguish and his slow realization that he's living against his grain (to quote "Carol"). And the guy is a hell of a pianist.

Wopat is a powerhouse here. Who'd have thunk that Luke Duke ("The Dukes of Hazzard") had this much angst and nuance in him? Wopat makes Richard's questionable evolution feel completely organic. He's a father desperately trying to love his son, despite the fact that he grew up without the emotional tools to know how to love him unconditionally.

The film is deftly and meticulously directed by newcomer Kerstin Karlhuber and the keen and intelligent script was written by Jack Bryant.

"Fair Haven" is a commendable achievement. Even when the film follows a few predictable routes, it always feels authentic.

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute