Sharon Gless of Cagney & Lacy and Queer as Folk fame gives a fine performance as a salty old lesbian confined to a nursing home in Hannah Free, an otherwise schmaltzy movie that is hard to swallow. It begins a national roll out today in Los Angeles.
The screenplay, adapted by Claudia Allen from her play, focuses on Gless' fierce title character. Now in her 70's — although it is hard to get a read on the film's timeline and Gless doesn't look that elderly — Hannah is unable to use her legs and is largely confined to bed in a skilled nursing facility.
As fate and the strained plot would have it, Hannah's longtime lover, Rachel (Maureen Gallagher), lies in a coma another wing over. Hannah is understandably anxious to see her, but Rachel's fundamentalist Christian daughter won't allow it. As Hannah schemes ways to sneak into Rachel's room with a young, mysteriously sympathetic visitor, Greta (Jacqui Jackson), she also chats with the spirit of Rachel's younger self and relates stories from their past to Greta.
These flashbacks are the best-directed scenes in Hannah Free. Director Wendy Jo Carlton drenches the actors playing younger Hannah (Kelli Strickland, who doesn't resemble Gless so much as young Gary Busey) and Rachel (Ann Hagemann) in golden sunlight and post-coital sweat. Their exchanges are more natural and realistic than much of the dialogue between the story's more contemporary characters.
As someone who regularly visits patients in skilled nursing facilities, I can attest that the movie also depicts many of the details of nursing home life accurately. While it seems cruel, a person in Hannah's situation currently doesn't have the right in most US states to visit their same-sex partner in the absence of a legal document (power of attorney, civil partnership or marriage license) granting them that right.
The film's various, mostly female performers do the best they can with the so-so material, but only Gless transcends it. She captures the frustration and righteous anger of someone who has been denied too much too long due to their "deviant" sexuality. Her scenes with Gallagher as the older Rachel ring with emotional truth even as their lines are by and large cliché.
While I can't recommend Hannah Free in general, I expect some lesbian women will find much to appreciate in its scenario. If nothing else, they have a new hero in Sharon Gless.
Click here to watch the trailer for Hannah Free.
UPDATE: Hannah Free is now available on DVD from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.