Rating: (5 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!] Thursday, 10/22/2009, 7:00 PM Feature presentation, $10 at AFI Silver
AFTER A LIFE spent restlessly traveling the world, the title character in Hannah Free finds herself immobilized in a care facility, with her longtime companion, Rachel, in another wing of the facility, comatose and inaccessible to Hannah because of insensitive family and staff.
Against a breathtaking Michigan landscape, the film travels back in time to moments during Hannah and Rachel’s history, where we learn not just of the joy they shared, but also of their tension over Hannah’s inability to sit still. Rachel, widowed with two babies, resents Hannah’s globetrotting, but can’t stay mad long after her lover returns from one of her jaunts. Over the years, they negotiate a life together that comes to a halt when Hannah is injured falling from a roof and Rachel suffers a stroke.
It seems like luck when young Greta meets Hannah, visiting the care center under the pretense of studying Depression-era life. But Hannah soon finds herself sharing memories of Rachel and discovers an eager audience in Greta, who conspires to sneak Hannah to Rachel’s side during the night. We later learn that Greta’s appearance in Hannah’s life is not accidental, and that her compassion for the story of the older lesbian couple has an explanation as well.
One of the strongest gifts of this film is its casting, with Sharon Gless of Cagney & Lacey fame anchoring as present-day Hannah, while newcomer Kelli Strickland is a perfect complement as the younger manifestation. But behind the actors is a beautiful story, perfectly timed amid a national battle over gay marriage rights, reminding us of the urgency of achieving equality in legal recognition of our relationships.
Hannah Free struggles somewhat in the pacing and the story seems to crawl along right up until the end, when far too much happens in the final minutes. The film would be better served by giving more attention to the relationship between Hannah and Rachel’s daughter, Marge, and spreading out their confrontation over Rachel’s care instead of cramming it in at a crucial point in the plot. But even despite this shortcoming, it’s a lovely story that leaves its audience with much to contemplate.
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