Southern Baptist Sissies Movie Review
A filmed staging of Del Shores' provocative stage play, this movie is an engaging exploration of the point where religion and sexuality collide in the American South. It catches the same irreverent but honest tone as Shores' film Sordid Lives (and the accompanying TV series), digging deep beneath the surface to grapple with big issues all viewers can identify with.
Set in Texas, the story centres on Mark (Collins), who has grown up in a fiercely baptist family and is desperate to be a good Christian boy despite his growing awareness of his homosexuality. As his pastor (Newell Alexander) takes a hard line against same-sex desire, Mark identifies three other gay boys in his church group: TJ (Stratte-McClure) desperately wants to resist temptation, Benny (Belli) defiantly decides to be himself, and Andrew (Montgomery) has a dark crisis of faith. Commenting on all of this are two backslidden baptists, the boozy Odette (Dickey) and the chirpy queen Peanut (Jordan), who meet for drinks in a gay bar because no one will judge them there.
Since this is a stage production, the adept actors are able to play these four boys from about age 10 to 25, letting us follow each of their journeys as they struggle to find acceptance from their church, family and themselves. Mark particularly bristles against being called a "sissy", and the story explores homophobia in the culture that's both darkly understated and fiercely violent. Shores certainly never flinches in looking at every side of the issue, which sometimes makes the film feel a bit too all-encompassing. Thankfully, the actors adapt their performances for the cameras, bringing a subtle earthiness to their roles that lets the characters and situations spring vividly to life.
It's also both powerfully emotional and very funny. Shores frames everything with generous but spiky humour, which makes the film amusing and warm even as it continually challenges the prejudices we don't even know we have. And at the centre, the story is a knowing exploration of the conflicting response the church has had to homosexuality: Why is sexuality the only Old Testament "abomination" the church takes any notice of? And if God is love, why do Christians so often respond with fear and hatred?