It has taken seven years for the film, Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay! to make it from script to screen. A seven-year journey could date a film that deals with present day issues like gay marriage and gay adoption. The movie illustrates, however, that the country hasn’t advanced very far with regard to recognizing same-sex marriages. We have, in fact, taken more than a few steps back. In 2004, gays were traveling to San Francisco to marry legally. In 2008, the state passed Proposition 8 to ban same-sex unions.
Although Oy Vey! deals with the larger issues, the film zeroes in on two families to show how they cope with the news that their two sons are together. This focus is what makes the movie appealing. Promos for the film proclaim, “Love Is Love Is Love,” and the ninety minutes are indeed filled with love and many laughs. Any parent can identify with the struggles these mothers and fathers face. A son is a son even if he chooses to be with another man rather than a woman. Yet accepting that a child is gay also means letting go of many parental dreams—the big, traditional wedding with a bride and groom and, perhaps, grandchildren. There’s also the task of withstanding society’s penetrating gaze. Although everyone professes to love Ellen, Elton John, and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, that’s entertainment we can keep at arm’s length. Are we so ready to embrace specific individuals when the issue hits so close to home?
At first glance casting Lainie Kazan (above) as Shirley Hirsch, the Jewish mother who hopes her son, Nelson (Tony Award-winner John Lloyd Young, in photo below), will marry a nice Jewish girl, seems the wrong choice. After all, we know her as Maria Portokalos, the Greek mother who hoped her daughter (Nia Vardalos) would marry a nice Greek boy. Type casting? Not really. The earlier role was just practice for tackling the complex emotions she must convey in Oy Vey! Acceptance this time around does not come as easily. Her child’s life partner cannot be converted through the ritual of baptism. The transformation must be hers. Kazan’s battle with herself and her husband (Saul Rubinek) are alternately painful and humorous to watch.
Young’s decision to play the gay son continues to baffle many of his Jersey Boys fans who still covet his star-making turn on Broadway as Frankie Valli. It’s easy to see what drew him to the role. Whatever we know about Young, we know that he likes to take risks (the ultimate—singing 20-plus songs, many in falsetto six times a week), stretch his limits, and challenge our perceptions. He accomplishes all of these goals in Oy Vey! While some critics have attacked the film’s stereotypes, including making Nelson’s gay lover, Jai Rodriguez a decorator, Young’s character defies typecasting. He works in finance and dresses like a Master of the Universe. Ironically, his outward persona makes his homosexuality even more difficult for his parents to accept. Young’s performance is effective because it is restrained. He manages to convey with his facial expressions or voice his conflicting feelings. He loves Angelo (Rodriguez) but is, in his heart, a good Jewish boy who loves his family. He can’t choose and hopes they won’t force his hand.
Angelo’s parents are just as tortured. Vincent Pastore plays Angelo’s father, Carmen Ferraro, and seems as threatening as he did in the Sopranos. (Showing him cleaning his shotgun was, perhaps, a little over the top). And although Angelo’s mother (Shelly Burch, from Broadway’s Nine) seems more accepting, she can’t help but pull out her son’s baby photos when the families finally meet. The unasked question: How could this adorable child now be gay?
There is a happy ending that seems a bit contrived. We all know families that have been shaken to the core by a child coming out. (And children are coming out at earlier ages these days). In real life, things are never wrapped up so neat and tidy. They are painful, messy, and, in many cases, lead to lifelong rifts that will never be repaired. But this is Hollywood after all where the audience must be sent home feeling good. The hope is that this film will also send them home to think.
Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay has had showings in major cities nationwide. On October 29 in New York, the film’s premiere was a fund raiser for amFar, the non-profit organization that funds AIDS research. Director Evgeny Afineevsky hopes the film will find a distributor soon.
Photo at top, from left, Saul Rubinek, Lainie Kazan, Evgeny Afineevsky, John Lloyd Young, and Jai Rodriguez.
For more information, go to www.oyveymysonisgay.com
John Lloyd Young’s website is www.johnlloydyoung.com