FEATURING Chely Wright, Stan Wright, Jennifer Archer, Cherie Combs, Rodney Crowell, Tony Brown, Russell Carter, Rosie O'Donnell, Meredith Vieira DIRECTED BY Bobbie Birleffi, Beverly Kopf MPAA RATING NR RUNNING TIME 96 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY First Run Features DVD EXTRAS Chely at home w/wife; Trailer; Biographies and more
"Wish Me Away" Review
To say that I felt angry while watching Wish Me Away would be an understatement.
To say that I felt sadness while watching Wish Me Away would also be an understatement.
To say that I am in awe of the life journey of Chely Wright would really be an incredible understatement.
After being named Top New Female Vocalist in 1995 by the Academy of Country Music, Wright's career took off in 1997 when "Shut Up and Drive" hit the Top 40. Two years later, Wright landed her first #1 song "Single White Female," a catchy pop country tune that perfectly blended together Wright's sassy, energized vocals with an undeniable sexiness. Overall, Chely Wright has released seven studio albums, a live album, two compilation albums and others. Along the way, Wright has amassed more than fifteen charting singles on the country music charts and has had her songs recorded by Brad Paisley, Indigo Girls, Mindy Smith, Richard Marx and Clay Walker.
In 2010, after a lifetime of self and public deception, Wright made the conscious decision to become the first major country music recording artist to come out as a lesbian.
The documentary Wish Me Away, co-directed by Bobbi Birleffi and Beverly Kopf, follows Wright over a two-year journey of flirting with the idea of coming out, making the decision to come out, planning how to come out and, finally, her actual coming out in May 2010 that coincided with her acclaimed book "Like Me" and the release of a 2010 CD called "Lifted off the Ground."
Wish Me Away is a must see film because there are teenagers who are just like Wright was at one point. They're sitting in their bedroom with a gun to their head wondering if life is worth living or if they're damaged goods or if they can ever really be loved. Indeed, while her coming out was undeniably for herself, Wright has also been incredibly open about her desire to use her public forum to do something about bullying and hate crimes and the overwhelming damage that is done when one lives a lie and denies oneself. Just this past March, Wright opened the Like Me Lighthouse, an LGBT Center in her hometown of Kansas City.
Wish Me Away is a must see film because Wright allows the truth, in all its rawness and beauty and edginess and ugliness and glory, to come shining through in the clips that are shared and the heartbreakingly honest video diaries that are interspersed throughout the film. It's the video diaries, in all honesty, that impacted me the most. While Wright is a beautiful woman who takes great pains to present herself well, these video diaries are typically simple, often black-and-white, brutally honest and amazingly heartfelt segments in which a frequently emotional Wright truly pours out her soul in a way that will undoubtedly resonate deeply with anyone who has ever come out, struggled emotionally, thought about suicide or essentially endured any major life trauma.
The film also, as one might expect, includes a wealth of Wright's own music that flows beautifully and fits perfectly within the framework of the film and her story. Refreshingly, Wright exudes almost complete authenticity whether she's defending herself to another lesbian for her comfort with her own sexiness or talking eloquently and powerfully about her wondrous and supportive relationship with her father, who cooperated with the film, or her obviously strained relationship with her mother, who did not cooperative with the making of Wish Me Away.
Wright addresses many topics that will be familiar to those who've come out or simply struggled with acceptance in the LGBT community such as religion, Christianity, professional obligations and more. At times you can't help but wonder if Wright is dramatizing the potential rejection of the Nashville music scene, until you begin to realize that no major country music stars have come out and Tennessee is fairly well known as one of the more Republican states around. While there are those amongst Wright's circle who acknowledge there are many gays and lesbians in the Nashville music scene, they almost all also acknowledge that coming out remains a potential death sentence to one's career. Indeed, it's interesting to see the calculated planning that went into Wright's coming out journey, planning that included such things as the planned coinciding of the book with her CD, mock interviews to prepare her for potentially challenging questions, a well planned out media blitz on television and radio and more.
Wish Me Away is the kind of film that I could write about for hours and still have more to say. As a pastor myself, it pains me and angers me that the church that professes to teach the love of Christ continues to spew forth so much anger and hatred towards those who are deemed different in any way. Wright's relationship with a supportive pastor who is seen at times in the film is also not well explained, especially given her acknowledged challenging history with church while still very much professing her faith and Christianity. One can only hope that once the film arrives on DVD that these issues are even more thoroughly revealed.
Wright, who now records on smaller label Vanguard Records, has spent the time since she came out becoming increasingly involved in charitable efforts including her own founding of the Like Me Organization that specifically targets LGBT youth and works against teen bullying and suicide. In August 2011, Wright married LGBT rights advocate Lauren Blitzer and has been traveling the festival circuit with this film.
Wish Me Away has been picked up for distribution by First Run Features and opens in New York City and Berkeley on June 1st, 2012 before beginning its limited nationwide run.