| February 8, 2016

I really feel like the Supreme Court declaring that gay marriage is legal in all states recently may have taken the wind out of this film’s sails.  It’s a good story, well acted, well directed, emotionally strong, but it’s a victim of its own release date.  This story needed to either come out before the supreme court ruling, or ten years from now, looking back on this antiquated, barbaric period of American history when we tried to regulate what love is.

The film itself is very good.  I believe this is Ellen Page’s (Juno) first time playing a homosexual, and certainly her first time since coming out as a lesbian in her personal life.  As the producer of the film, this seems to be a very personal story to her, and the passion she has for the project is evident in every aspect of the movie.  Paired with Julianne Moore (Still Alice), the two actresses manage to create a profound and meaningful relationship on screen that pulls the audience through the emotional significance of the story even when the focus moves from those characters to the political struggle to win Laurel (Moore) the right to leave her pension to her domestic partner Stacie (Page).

This could be another reason I struggled to get into the movie.  Structurally, it’s odd that our main characters disappear for much of the second half so that the men in their lives can go to battle and fight their battle.  Laurel continually states that she’s not an activist and specifically not interesting in fighting for marriage equality, but rather just equality, which she also doesn’t fight for very strongly.  Her laissez faire approach to civil liberties that affect her makes it difficult to get invested in the central conflict of the film.  Page’s character is no better, just wanting her partner to focus on getting healthy and never doing anything to pursue Laurel’s rights to equality.

A real highlight of the film is Steve Carrell (Foxcatcher), who plays a gay rights activist who has to practically beg Laurel and Stacie to take an interest in issues that affect their lives.  Carrell’s character has a flamboyance and flirtation with the men around him in the film, but it never feels over the top or unrealistic.  His charm and playful demeanor are the best thing about this movie, and only serve to make me wonder why we’re not watching a movie about him, rather than a lesbian couple who doesn’t seem that interested in fighting for their rights.

I’m also a huge fan of Michael Shannon (Take Shelter), who consistently makes surprising and exciting choices as an actor.  It may not always work out (Man of Steel), but he’s out there and trying things, and using his career to live as many lives as he possibly can, and that’s great.  His transition here from being uncomfortable with his partner’s homosexuality and ending up being her biggest champion is a bit forced, but Shannon makes it work for how little time he has to make that shift as an actor.

Available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Summit Entertainment, and the special features include the academy award winning documentary short about Laurel and Stacie’s story.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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