‘Friends’ to the End

The essential lesson of ‘Hannah Free’ couldn’t be timelier.

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The word “Hannah” is a palindrome. It’s the same, backward and forward, any way you look at it. So is Hannah Free, a strong, bold, butch, take-me-as-I-am lesbian who grows up and grows old in rural mid-20th-century Michigan with her “best friend,” Rachel.

Sharon Gless (l) and Maureen Gallagher.

Hannah’s constant is that she is full of daring, wanderlust, and bravado, traveling on a whim to points as far-flung as Alaska and South America. Though her decisions are now limited to elevating and lowering her automatic bed in a last-stop extended-care facility, the indignity of her dependence has not stemmed Hannah’s proud, free spirit. A woman’s woman, Hannah even continues to get her flirt on with a young lesbian visiting the hospital (who, as it turns out, is more than just a visitor).

Never venturing beyond her home-state line, Rachel’s feet are planted firmly in reality. She married and buried and bore children, but her constant is her love for Hannah. She now lingers in a coma in another wing of that same hospital.

A favorite on the queer film festival circuit, Hannah Free won 2009’s Best Narrative Feature Film honor at Austin’s Gay & Lesbian Independent Film Festival. The film treats serious themes about self-acceptance and what it means to be out (which does not always require parading down the street on a float) with wit, warmth, accuracy, and sensitivity.

Sharon Gless is at her considerable best playing the title role of the adult and aged Hannah to the skillful Maureen Gallagher’s long-suffering Rachel. And though its overall character exposition is occasionally a bit heavy-handed, the film’s portrayal of the precariousness of same-sex couples having to rely on the sympathy of potentially unsympathetic medical staff in times of crisis is a story that has needed telling for a long, long time. It sheds timely light on President Barack Obama’s April 15 memo instructing hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid to treat gay families with the same respect as straight families, legally erasing the possibility of deathbed discrimination.

It’s only right. Because after all, in the end, aren’t all families the same, backward and forward, any way you look at them?

Wendy Jo Carlton directs Claudia Allen’s adapted screenplay, with music contributed by Houston Women’s Music Festival veteran Vicci Martinez. From Wolfe ( on June 1.


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