After having identified the first four openly gay members of the California State legislature as women, Political Animals lacks much of an argument. At one point it problematically – divisively – suggests that gay men had no interest in LGBT politics until the onset of the AIDS crisis.
With the documentary being based on the premise that our generation takes their civil liberties for granted, it is hard to imagine Political Animals being received outside of its educational context, if it is even granted that. Frustratingly, other 20th century civil rights movements are only given a brief nod and, as such, it feels like a lot has been said but not much meant.
Political Animals is largely comprised of talking heads, with very little factual evidence to counterbalance the weight of opinion. The filmmakers are aware of this and occasionally replace the pictures taken from the interview with graphics, a poor substitute for anything really happening. Another off-key decision has the four women sat around a dinner table as if in re-enactment of their plotting – which transpires as a forced comparison, with the foregrounding of flickering candles channeling séance more than social justice.
Where it strikes home is in the scenes of courtroom drama, when the central subjects speak out against the frustratingly intolerant members of the assembly voting against the gay non-discrimination legislature. A portrait of resilience to personal attacks is well-captured, although the courtroom scenes start to drag: the whole film could have done with a sharper edit.
It is unclear as to what Jonah Markowitz and Tracy Wares are really trying to do with Political Animals. The documentary doesn’t feel much more than a flat retelling of the history of same-sex marriage and would dry up without its four central personalities.
CAST: Carole Midgen, Sheila Kuehl, Jackie Goldberg, Christine Kehoe
DIRECTORS: Jonah Markowitz, Tracy Wares
SYNOPSIS: This documentary lets the four women who authored the laws that changed the course of LGBT history narrate their agonising legislative experiences.