The Case Against 8 takes you right to the very beginning of the scandalous, distressing times involving California’s passing of Proposition 8.
Watching clips of Prop 8 propaganda and observing professionals talking in all seriousness about the benefits of the amendment is like falling through the looking glass. It’s hard to believe that this period existed and that 18,000 couples with different sexual orientations were told their marriages were voided.
Shooting and collecting footage over five years and closely following the development and execution of the trial against Prop 8, documentarians Ben Cotner and Ryan White give equal screen time to both couples who spearheaded the campaign. Instead of sitting each fighter down and having them recite their relationship history, Cotner and White use trial rehearsal footage to set the scene. Through these segments, the audience can quickly sympathize and understand the saddened astonishment. It’s one of the many smart moves this documentary takes to establish itself and tell the sprawling story.
The audience is allowed to view special unseen preparation leading up to the pivotal trial. Cotner and White never have a doubt that any of the audience will be straggling to keep up. They boil it all down to straightforward terms using legit and vulnerable background info. On an initial pitch, The Case Against 8 may drive those who can’t stand being in a courtroom out of their seat. But, once those people see the doc’s layout and how fluently it plays out, their intimidation would diminish drastically.
Though I’m gushing about how great the filmmakers have set up their film, it’s not immaculate. The Case Against 8 will have you pulled in, but the film baggily cruises when Cotner and White are putting the button on their story. They want to show an important event but in order to do so, they are willing to show the exact lead-up – they don’t want to leave anything out. While I admire their commitment and recognize that a detailed court case isn’t always going to be non-stop roller coaster, The Case Against 8 still feels too long punching out a few minutes before the two hour mark.
What the doc does beautifully, however, is portray how this issue brought people together. Apart from the banding support amongst gay and lesbian couples going through the same hurt as well as the backing from the American Foundation of Equal Rights (including filmmaker Rob Reiner and Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black), it’s the unlikely bonding between lawyers David Boies and Ted Olson that explodes.
Olson and Boies were competitors during the election days of Al Gore and George W. Bush, with each man supporting a different politician in the running and having different standpoints about the Florida recount. However, they developed quite a relationship when they weren’t contending, and the case against Prop 8 was a viewpoint they could both agree on. Mind you, Olson’s conservative supporters were not as accepting.
The Case Against 8 captures a crucial time in modern culture that tried to define preferences for other people. It’s a doc that excellently shows how influential an opposing voice from the little people can be when the odds seem out of whack. Cotner and White’s massively important documentary soars with prosperity and by using stupendous fly-on-the-wall filmmaking, it’s most likely the only first-hand work that we’ll have to reference this alarming cultural period. So, it’s a good thing that its well made.
The Case Against 8 is a lengthy journey to good news, but that’s a nitpick next to how often this doc hits the bullseye.