In the opening minutes of Abigail Honor's documentary Saints And Sinners, Edward DeBonis calls seven Catholic churches in New York City, trying to secure a date to marry his boyfriend, Vincent Maniscalco. It initially seems that DeBonis is incredibly naïve, or that Saints And Sinners is setting up to be a Michael Moore/Morgan Spurlock-style stunt movie, with two gay men deliberately poking at the institutions of marriage to reveal pervasive prejudice. Before that can happen, though, Honor lets her subjects explain themselves, and Saints And Sinners rapidly becomes more chatty than pushy.
DeBonis and Maniscalco tell their coming-out stories (including DeBonis' previous experiment with marriage to a woman) and their falling-in-love anecdote (bonding over pool and The Smiths), and they go on to talk about the importance of the Catholic tradition in their lives. Soon, the couple is bickering over church decorations, what to wear, and what their first dance should be. Throughout Saints And Sinners, Honor operates under the principle that the specific details of one relationship are more universal than broad generalizationseven when that relationship is unconventional.
Still, Saints And Sinners is far from apolitical. DeBonis and Maniscalco talk a lot about Dignity, a gay and lesbian Catholic organization that has to celebrate Mass in non-Catholic churches, as second-class parishioners. And, though DeBonis and Maniscalco have good relationships with their families, some devout Catholic relatives worry about whether celebrating Mass with Dignity will get them in trouble with their home churches. (Their concern seems legitimate, given recent public debates about whether pro-choice politicians should be allowed to receive Communion.)
But by and large, this gay marriage isn't especially divisive, and Honor doesn't seek out dissenting voices, which means that while Saints And Sinners will strike some as a refreshingly even-toned social study, it's also a documentary heavy on talking heads and low on real drama. It's beautifully shot and deeply felt, but, for the most part, hearing a description of the film is as good as watching it.