'American Vagabond' captures the full scope of modern American gay life

Review: An emotional cinematic core helps the documentary 'American Vagabond' resonate as a tale of diverse humanity.

American Vagabond is a touching story about the power of love and perseverance. It's a relatively short film that packs a punch in 85 minutes and can be a tearjerker if you get easily emotional.

The documentary film, which screened at the Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival Saturday afternoon, centers on James Temple and Tyler Johnson, a gay couple who run away to San Francisco to seek refuge; they choose to run because James’s family has kicked him out of the house for being a homosexual. They leave in hopes of finding the American Dream.

Reality strikes both of these kids hard as if they can taste the pavement. They consider San Francisco to be the "Gay Promised Land” because of how it’s considered to be the world’s gay Mecca. Director Susanna Helke has made sure to give you the distinction of the American Dream and living in the shadows of it through beautiful cinematography, which she was in charge of.

Helke takes us through the nights in San Francisco. The dimness of the city and the showing of the orange light posts beating down on the woods of Golden Gate Park where this homeless couple would sleep -- this demonstrated the convoluted life they were trying to change.

One of the characters, Angel, said it best: “I thought this was supposed to be the city at the end of the rainbow, the Gay Promised Land, the place where I would be safe. But the city was gray. It was gray pigeons, gray buildings and gray men in gray suits. Just gray souls everywhere."

Helke also demonstrates other people’s stories that keep us attentive at all times because of the simplicity of the conversations, as if you and I were going to get drinks on a Friday night. James realizes that his life has come to the crossroads and that he has to go back where he was ostracized (home). The transitioning from San Francisco back to Chico, California is crucial as it represents the coming of age story of a young gay man who is trying to heal old wounds.

Chico symbolizes small town America, while Sandy, James’s mom, symbolizes the traditional parent and conservative America. These are all obstacles James has to face, and it's far from easy to watch him face them. But the relationships are gentle, and it's pleasing to see the growth of individuals.

American Vagabond succeeds with its drama and the narration of a couple that had the audacity to love each other regardless of the disapprovals.

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