'Chely Wright: Wish Me Away' follows country singer's coming out
A review of "Chely Wright: Wish Me Away," a documentary about country singer Chely Wright's decision to come out as a lesbian in notoriously conservative Nashville.
The New York Times
'Chely Wright: Wish Me Away,' a documentary directed by Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf. 95 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. SIFF Cinema at the Film Center.
The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
"I love my fans; I love how much they love me," the country singer Chely Wright says in "Chely Wright: Wish Me Away," a documentary about her decision to come out as a lesbian in notoriously conservative Nashville. The comment, with its intimations of narcissism and dependence on the adulation of strangers, is one of several truly heartbreaking moments in a film that, like its subject, feels torn between keeping it all together and letting it all hang out.
Control, and its relinquishment, is a constantly recurring motif. On the one hand, the film smoothly documents a coming out as carefully engineered as a debutante's; on the other, a rough video diary records Wright's swelling fears as the day of revelation looms.
Like glimpses backstage during an elaborately staged event, this diary draws our attention away from the machinery of celebrity and toward the risks of flouting religious beliefs and alienating family as well as fans. Hate mail and death threats from strangers are one thing; possible rejection by one's own brother-in-law is quite another.
Filmed over three years by Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf, this scrappy-slick confessional is a fascinating study in dualities: the woman who dated men while loving another woman; the mother who simultaneously encouraged and terrorized; the book title, "Like Me," that announces solidarity while begging for affection; the entourage that serves as polisher of her message and armor against its repercussions.
By the end you may not be a fan of her music, but it's hard not to root for her rebirth.