Release Date: Screened June 20, 2014 – 16th Annual Provincetown Film Festival
Runtime: 87 minutes
Studio: Pack Creek Productions
Director: Sheila Canavan, Michael Chandler
Cast: Barney Frank; Jim Ready; Neil Barofsky; Dustin Lance Black; Eliot Spitzer
Controversial. Witty. Acerbic. Straightforward. No bullshit. These are all words that can describe the former US Congressman from Massachusetts, Barney Frank. His voyage from local politician to the national stage is documented in Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler’s “Compared to What: The Improbably Journey of Barney Frank,” which screened last night at the 16th Annual Provincetown Film Festival.
The movie doesn’t delve into a lot of background on Frank’s life (childhood, etc.), so in that sense, it’s not really a documentary about his life, per se, but more about his sometimes tumultuous 20 years in office (he was chairman of the Finance Committee during the country’s financial meltdown in 2008-09…yikes!). Notably, Frank was the first sitting congressman to come out of the closet, a move that many felt would destroy his political career. Of course, he simply saw his personal life as one aspect of who he was, aside from his professional life, and would do battle with anyone who saw his choice of lifestyle as profane. In the process, Frank became a fierce proponent of marriage equality and took to task other politicians who saw marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman as a threat to the moral code. As a result of his trailblazing time in office, he became an inspiration and a role model for people of all ages (regardless of political affiliation) who struggle with coming out, even in a much less spotlighted position as he was in.
The documentary touches upon his time at Harvard, his early years in office, right up until his retirement and subsequent wedding to long-time love, Jim Ready (presided over by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick). Many familiar faces appear to give testimonials and thoughts about Frank, including the political (Hank Paulson, Nancy Pelosi) and the more secular (Eliot Spitzer, Dustin Lance Black), as well as friends from Frank’s college days. At times, the film jumps unevenly between a political course and a personal thread, but it ultimately doesn’t make too much of a difference to the picture’s impact. The film earns its place as a true crowd-pleaser at Frank and Ready’s wedding, where the usually schlubby Frank, looking dapper and (for once) put together, exchanges vows with his man. It’s a touching moment as we see a politician usually so assertive, pummeling opponents with his words, as a vulnerable man with tears in his eyes. It turns out that Barney Frank finally achieved what he had been fighting for all these years, what was once thought impossible, especially for a national political figure: love and marriage to the man of his dreams.
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