If homosexuality is a choice (as a certain nominee for U.S. surgeon general contends), it's news to the Northwest couples interviewed in Drew Emery's charming and heartfelt documentary "Inlaws & Outlaws."
As they talk about their experiences on Whidbey Island, in Volunteer Park and in Mukilteo, one theme comes through loud and clear: the spontaneous passion and "the magic" they feel or felt for their partners. No one seems to have chosen which sex to pursue, though they've often felt pressured or thwarted by people and institutions telling them what to choose.
In the words of one 40-ish man who is "tired of being onstage," acting is sadly but inevitably a part of being gay. Pretending to be heterosexual is sometimes necessary for survival, yet at some point the people Emery rounded up have said enough is enough. They're out of the closet here, and they're not shy about it.
In the opening sequence, children and teenagers are asked what marriage means to them; their responses are startling, candid, surprisingly witty. The talking-heads format is briefly interrupted as Seattle jazz and soul singer Felicia Loud smoothly performs standards appropriate to the mood of each sequence: "Our Love is Here to Stay," "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," "Everybody Hurts."
The movie also includes heterosexuals talking about their love lives. It gradually shifts its focus and becomes less about sexual orientation than it is about the difficulties and rewards of becoming a committed couple. There's no mistaking the joy and shared memories of these couples — or the anguish that some (especially a devoted Mormon lesbian pair) have experienced.
The most moving episodes involve long-term relationships. One man planned suicide when his lover of 50 years died, but a welcoming congregation at an Everett church renewed his spirit. Some couples generate such mutual respect and playfulness on-camera that it's easy to see why they've been together for decades.
Emery finished shooting "Inlaws & Outlaws" a couple of years ago, when he held the premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival. Since then, he's taken the $120,000 production around the country, showing it at churches in Ohio, Indiana and Oklahoma, and whittling away at it until it's about 10 minutes shorter.
It's a tighter film now, with fewer musical jokes (the ironic use of "A Man and a Woman" is no longer part of the soundtrack), yet nothing essential seems to be missing. As Emery puts it, it's not just "preaching to the choir" but "accessible to anybody."
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Inlaws & Outlaws," a documentary directed by Drew Emery. 99 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (includes discussions of sexual relations). Uptown.