Chely Wright - Wish Me Away
When Chely Wright came out as a lesbian, it marked the first time that a country star had emerged from the closet. But Wright had the benefit of advance planning: She wrote a memoir, had media coaching, and gave filmmakers Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf access to her personal process.
The result of the latter is "Chely Wright: Wish Me Away," a moving and triumphant documentary that shows how a girl from Kansas grew up to be a singing sensation and, finally, a fully integrated human being.
The journey was a long one, and none too easy. In her private video diary, Wright frets about the countdown to her planned coming out; in a filmed session with her spiritual advisor, C. Welton Gaddy (who also happens to be the president of the Interfaith Alliance), Wright makes painful confessions about the life she led while in the closet.
Hers is a story that’s both familiar and unique. Wright knew she was "different" from an early age and did her best to pray the gay away. When that didn’t work, she closed off part of herself from family, fans, and colleagues; she even dated men, including fellow country star Brad Paisley, all while secretly living with another woman.
That’s part of the paradox of life in the closet. "I met the love of my life when I was 23," Wright reveals, but we never learn her name. Wright refers to the mystery woman as "my partner," even though, after a confrontation with a homophobic friend, Wright went into a panic and broke off her relationship.
"Wish Me Away" is a study in the deep, ravaging cost of fear. Wright is terrified of coming out on "The Today Show," but she’s more afraid of telling her mother that she’s gay; she’s terrified that she’ll lose her fans, when, as she tells the camera, "I love how much they love me." It’s also a skillfully produced film that juxtaposes Wright’s songs and videos with the secret struggles that consumed much of her life.
Wright’s darkest moment and her emergence into the light happen almost on top of one another. She describes the moment with stunning candor: "It occurred to me that I had masterfully created a life that I didn’t want." Wright found herself putting a gun in her mouth, only for God to intervene and wash away her inner conflict with "a gallon of warmth." From the moment on, Wright knew what she had to do, and she had the courage to do it.
This is a not-to-be-missed portrait of a gifted woman coming to grips with lies that could have destroyed her, and overcoming fear, hatred, and prejudice.
The DVD release contains one interesting special feature and several less than gripping extras. "At Home With Chely and Lauren" is a short interview with Wright and her wife, Lauren Blitzer. The pair describe the responses they’ve received as a married couple -- everything from ecstatic affirmation to loud, disdainful, and unprofessional treatment while in the Customs line upon return from a trip abroad. As a coda showing her happy and fulfilled, this special feature completes the film’s portrait of Chely Wright.
The other extras include a photo gallery and a text feature that’s really just a resume of the filmmakers. Birleffi and Kopf have done some good work, but one wonders why they need to blow their horn in this way. There are also several previews for other DVD releases.