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With: Cynthia Alardo, Phil Alardo, Brian Bennett, Kathleen Bremner, Paul Bremner, Guy Foti, Pastor Jim Hill, Dolores Horsman, David Jester, Susan Jester, Bill Jones, Rev. William Koenig, Welda Koenig, Brett Mathews, John McGraw, Shawn Steel, Manuel Taboada, Nancy Taboada
Written by: Arthur Dong
Directed by: Arthur Dong
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 75
Date: 01/01/2002

Family Fundamentals (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Gay Fray

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening today at the Opera Plaza, Arthur Dong's new documentary Family Fundamentals will no doubt play well in San Francisco because it's on our side. It's the old "preaching to the converted" syndrome. You can go see this movie and feel good about yourself and your beliefs for a while. But I kept wondering how this film would play to a more conservative audience, or indeed if it would ever play at all to a more conservative audience.

Family Fundamentals looks at three test cases of grown gay or lesbian children of conservative and religious parents. In each case, the parents allow their views to get in the way of their relationship with their children. The most outrageous story by far concerns Kathleen Bremner, who not only has a lesbian daughter in Susan Jester, but a gay grandson in David Jester. But Kathleen actually leads a religious support group that speaks out against gays and lesbians, quoting the Bible and convincing themselves that becoming homosexual is merely a bad decision people make. Susan counters her mother's activities with her own gay and lesbian activism.

Next we have Brett Matthews, a former lieutenant in the Air Force who was discharged without benefits when it was revealed that he was gay. Now Brett tries to keep up a relationship with his parents but finds their prejudice continually getting in the way. He agrees to fly back home for his grandmother's wedding (!) but the family will not allow Dong and his crew to witness the fireworks.

Finally, we meet Briant Bennett, who worked for and became a kind of surrogate son to former Californian Congressman Bob Dornan, a Republican. After struggling for years, Bennett finally came out to Dornan and their relationship sharply declined.

The strength of the film is that it does have the nerve to explore both sides of the issue. Whenever possible, Dong points his camera at one of the conservatives, genuinely curious as to what makes them think the way they do.

The best subject is Bremner, who carefully explains why she thinks homosexuality is wrong. She claims that other groups misquote the Bible for their own purposes while failing to realize that she's doing the same thing (no one ever provides an exact quote from or location in the Bible that says homosexuality is wrong).

The movie never bothers to reiterate the fact that no one ever chooses to be homosexual, that it's part of a person's makeup, like green eyes or a distaste for cantaloupe. The conservatives in the movie continually refer to it as if it were a choice, like becoming a prostitute or a heroin addict. It's at this point that the arguments never meet.

It only makes sense that we would side with the underdogs in this movie, the gays and lesbians who struggle through their family crises. And Dong's film is heavily slanted toward them. Still, he makes a valiant effort to understand everyone's point of view, and he does such a good job of it that Family Fundamentals gets you riled up. You want to jump into the screen and join the fight.

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