Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: POLITICAL ANIMALS: A Timely Tribute to Political Pioneers [LA Film Festival 2016]

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Political Animals Review

Political Animals (2014Film Review from the 22nd Annual Los Angeles Film Festival, a film directed by Jonah Markowitz and Tracy Wares, starring Jackie Goldberg, Christine Kehoe, Sheila Kuehl, Carole Migden. 

At one point in Jonah Markowitz and Tracy Wares’s  documentary Political Animals, Jackie Goldberg passionately addresses the California legislature about her subjectivity in regards to the California Domestic Partnership Act of 1997. As a lesbian woman, it was simply impossible to keep her personal life out of the fight for the bill to pass. This gay writer found a great deal of personal interest in Political Animals, and much to appreciate, but I must disclose, I simply saw this film on the wrong day. I viewed Political Animals just hours after waking up to the news of the massacre at Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando. Political Animals is an upbeat film with the purpose to entertain, inform, and ultimately uplift. Uplifted is an emotion I simply was incapable of feeling on this day, and watching a documentary about the decades-long fight against LGBTQ discrimination, just hours after Omar Mateen mowed down over one hundred innocent and young LGBTQ people with an automatic weapon, felt like an endurance test. I saw Political Animals on a day when I felt, frankly, hopeless, particularly in consideration of all matters related to my fellow LGBTQ people and our strife . And now, with this simply unavoidable business out of the way,  I’ll do my best to review this film simply on its merits, as I should.

Political Animals opens with the events of June 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, and then the film takes us back a couple of decades to examine four specific women in the California legislature who were pioneers in the struggle.  An obvious, pandering, and schmaltzy voice over at the very beginning of the film does what follows a great disservice: “It’s so easy looking back, to take the progress that has been made, for granted. It’s so easy to think it all just happened. It didn’t just happen.”

Really? It didn’t just happen? Events preceded the legalization of gay marriage? I’m stunned! Shocked! Incroyable! Thank you for informing me, movie!

I am a 26-year-old with a fairly competent knowledge of 20th century gay history. I felt incredibly insulted by this out-of-place introduction, and my feeling is that most of the people who seek out Political Animals will feel ambivalent about it at best.

Fortunately, what follows this eye-rolling introduction is mostly just a treat of a documentary. First, we meet Sheila Kuehl, who achieved fame as a child actress on television in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Her acting career faltered, largely due to rumors of her lesbianism, and she studied law at Harvard. She was first elected to the California assembly in the 1990’s, and fought to introduce a bill to protect gay students from bullying. The bill passed after nearly a decade, at which point she was joined in the assembly by Carole Migden. Kuehl and Migden were joined by two other openly gay women– Christine Kehoe and Jackie Goldberg, in the fight for the California domestic partnership bill of 1997. Though the documentary short-shrifts Kehoe and Goldberg, most of the footage within the California assembly is completely riveting, sometimes infuriating, and also quite funny and eye-opening. The film also reunites the four women in present day, and they’re simply a joy to be around.

The film clearly implies that their victories led the way for the 2015 Supreme Court ruling, but skipping twenty years of time is fairly frustrating. The 86-minute documentary would have benefited from some padding to present day, not to mention more time fleshing out these fascinating women. As it stands, however, Political Animals is a much-welcome and quite timely tribute to four political pioneers.

Rating: 7/10

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About the author

Samuel Murrian

I am currently taking two film classes at UCLA. I went to the University of Pittsburgh for Film Studies, and have been attending The Groundlings School in Los Angeles off and on for a few years, as well as UCLA.

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