Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Sundance Review: 'The Case Against 8' Delivers an Emotional Tour of History in the Making

By Katherine Kilkenny | Indiewire January 19, 2014 at 3:17AM

Taking place over five arduous years of legislative gridlock, "The Case Against 8" could have easily delivered a searing indictment of our country's lagging recognition of same-sex marriage. Yet the first directorial partnership and Sundance debut of former Hollywood executive Ben Cotner and director Ryan White (2013's "Good Ol' Freda") refuses to capitulate its compassionate treatment of all players in the five-year same-sex battle Hollingsworth v. Perry in the interest of greater purpose. Their emotionally-wrought take on the case takes it out of landmark territory and into the terrain of momentous historic significance.
0
"The Case Against 8."
HBO "The Case Against 8."

Taking place over five arduous years of legislative gridlock, "The Case Against 8" could have easily delivered a searing indictment of our country's lagging recognition of same-sex marriage. Yet the first directorial partnership and Sundance debut of former Hollywood executive Ben Cotner and director Ryan White (2013's "Good Ol' Freda") refuses to capitulate its compassionate treatment of all players in the five-year same-sex battle Hollingsworth v. Perry in the interest of greater purpose. Their emotionally-wrought take on the case takes it out of landmark territory and into the terrain of momentous historic significance.

While two couples star in the Hollingsworth v. Perry trial that dominated the news last summer, "The Case Against 8" attributes the lawsuit that started it all to a third odd couple operating behind the scenes. The film begins with the unlikely union of former Bush v. Gore opponents Ted Olson and David Boies to lead the challenge to California's Proposition 8, which defined marriage as a legal partnership between a man and a woman and effectively denied same-sex couples of its attendant federal benefits. It turns out Olson, the conservative powerhouse lawyer who reaffirmed Bush's presidency in 2000, defines marriage as a conservative value for "two people who love each other and want to live together in a stable relationship." Boies was always the more likely supporter, though the friendship developed during Bush v. Gore remains something of a miracle that serves to make the film's point for a case transcending partisan boundaries.

The legal dream team vetted plaintiff candidates in a rigorous process that the film likens to the search for political candidates in an apt analogy. Certainly the chosen couples, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier of Burbank and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo of Los Angeles, train to present flawless fronts in court during the opening act. The emotional fissures that erupt in the law office during the preparation for the January 11, 2010 hearing show the anxieties hidden from the flashing cameras that nagged the two couples over the course of the five-year case. However, through the preparation, the couples come to accept their public roles. In one memorable response to a practice question about discrimination, Kris realizes her past traumas apply to an entire population. "It isn't just me, but it is me," she says. It is just one of the many reflections the film casts on a case designed to mine the plaintiffs' personal feelings for the purpose of riding a broader current of emotion.

When the defense, powered by an organization called Yes on 8, appealed the 2010 win in the Ninth Circuit, and through further appeals over several years brought it to the U.S. Supreme Court in July 2012, the plaintiffs narrate the trials, bringing a human perspective to the legal frustrations. Cotner and White do so wisely, for their subjects are natural storytellers. Small character details paint a vivid picture of the otherwise overexposed trial: Jeff recalls the way Ted Olson flips his tie over his shoulder when he eats pizza (Olson, we learn, is crazy for pizza). To reenact the dialogue, the plaintiffs simply read the scripts of their testimonies as the stark documents conveying intense court dialogue fill the screen, a trope that serves some immediacy back to the audience. As these documents come to quote the 14th Amendment, the film exposes its investment in the bones of the Constitution for a better future. With the persuasive comparisons Olson and Boise make to interracial marriage, women's rights, and African-American civil rights movements, it is difficult not to share in its optimism.

Cotner and White's film pulls at the heartstrings without ever coming off as propaganda due to their propensity to let the evidence speak for itself. The Yes on 8 viewpoint manifests in commercials and grainy C-Span footage with illogical, even comical, arguments. One neat gag has defending attorney Charles Cooper's rhetoric undermined by a precarious logo attached to his podium. And with a deft hand that avoids contrivance, Cotner and White suggest behind-the-scenes family bonds in lingering shots on fragmented objects. There are the tortillas with egg and hot sauce that Sandy cooks for Kris in their classic Berkeley two-story. The ornament of two reindeer in stockings on Jeff and Paul's Christmas tree bears their names side-by-side. Olson and Boise chose plaintiffs on the basis of same-sex couples who behaved just like everyone else, and the still shots of their homes and family photographs interspersed through the film show all the trimmings of a wholesome American family.

We all know what happened to Proposition 8 from CNN and all those Buzzfeed GIFs of running interns. "The Case Against 8" knowingly nods at its plaintiffs' success from the beginning. The film's stakes lie in the implicit illegality of same-sex marriage in 33 states still, and the systemic loopholes that allow for endless appeals. The real villain of "The Case Against 8," therefore, is time. The years needed for change as in other civil rights movements echoes in the slow burn of win-appeal we suffer as an audience in the film. "The Case Against 8," with its intimate argument in favor of humanity, could have something to teach the prosecutors leading that fight.

Criticwire Grade: A-

HOW WILL IT PLAY? "The Case Against 8" will air on HBO in June, when it should garner sizable ratings due to national interest in the story.


This article is related to: Reviews, Sundance 2014, Sundance Film Festival, Festivals, The Case Against 8, Documentary






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More