Elevate Difference

Hannah Free

If LOGO and the Hallmark Channel had a baby, they would name her Hannah Free.

The story goes like this: an aging lesbian couple, together for four decades, both now find themselves confined to the same nursing home, but unable to see one another. Free-spirited butch Hannah (Sharon Gless) is paralyzed after falling off a roof, and is denied access to her comatose lover Rachel (Maureen Gallagher) by Rachel's bitter born-again Christian daughter Marge (Taylor Miller of TV's All My Children).

Bedridden and lonely, Hannah spends most of her time napping, journaling, reading mail, and talking to an imagined younger version of Rachel (Ann Hagemann). It is through these (highly contrived) plot devices that the audience is taken back into chapters of Hannah's history: her childhood chasing after little blond Rachel through wheat fields, her Depression-era youth happily roughing it in Alaska, her WWII military service as a pilot in the Women's Army Corps. Her younger version is played by relative unknown Kelli Strickland, who spends the majority of her onscreen time locked in tepid PG-13 sex scenes with Hagemann's Rachel.

One day, following a tense interaction with Marge, a young woman named Greta (Jacqui Jackson) wanders into Hannah's room, all wide eyed and with polite questions. She draws out from Hannah her unfortunate circumstances, and quickly offers to come by at 3 a.m. to take Hannah to see Rachel. We soon learn that Greta is not just motivated by altruism; she is Rachel's great-granddaughter, and herself a lesbian. Hannah and Greta strike up a friendship, and Hannah later shares her journals with Greta; more flashbacks ensue. The third act sees Hannah, Marge, and Greta come together to make a very difficult end-of-life decision on behalf of the woman they all hold dear.

Notice my usage of the term third act? It's a common term in references to films, but it is especially appropriate in the case of Hannah Free, a film adapted for the screen by playwright Claudia Allen. Film buffs are aware that play adaptations fall into two distinct categories: those that successfully make the leap from stage to screen (e.g., Crimes of the Heart and Steel Magnolias) and those that don't. Sadly, Hannah Free just doesn't.

I appreciate issues-driven cinema as much as the next bleeding heart liberal. Admittedly, Hannah Free does address a variety of pertinent topics. These include the concepts of a loving versus “legal” family in regard to LGBT relationships and which decisions each partner is allowed to make regarding the other; the general dearth of quality elder care, specifically care for aging LGBT folks; and living openly in rural communities. With its story told by a predominantly female cast, and emphasis placed on both respect for lesbian elders and multi-generational lesbian representation in families with the character of Greta, the film also has a decidedly feminist bent. Still, Hannah Free is heavy-handed—and hokey.

As it relates to issues of health, family, and LGBT equality, Hannah Free is a relevant film. As a worthwhile cinematic experience, however, it falls woefully short.

Written by: M. Brianna Stallings, July 20th 2010