Firstly Common Ground

Credit: Apollo Guide

Apollo Score: 79

Users' Rating: 80 (11 votes)

With the growth in popularity of both the multi-story formula (If These Walls Could Talk) and the gay rights agenda, Common Ground bring a social message to a mass audience.

The stories in this trilogy are joined by a common setting, flag and patriot (Eric Stoltz), although they take place in different eras. The first is titled “A Friend of Dorothy’s.” Phrases like the title were used in the 1950s to identify fellow homosexuals without openly asking the question. In this segment, Dorothy Nelson (Brittany Murphy) finds that being dishonorably discharged from the military for homosexual misconduct is a black eye on her future in her small hometown of Homer.

Other stars lend their talents to this segment. Jason Priestley plays Billy, the man who introduces Dorothy to the lifestyle; Mimi Rogers is brutal as Dorothy’s anti-gay commanding officer; Margot Kidder is terrific as her unforgiving mother.

The second story takes place after the Vietnam War, also in the town of Homer. “M. Roberts” is a tender story of young Tobias (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) whose uncertain homosexuality leads him to confide in his closeted gay French teacher Gil Roberts (Steven Weber), who refuses to acknowledge the situation for fear of ruining his reputation.

The third and final story is the modern tale “Amos and Andy.” Amos (James LeGros) is an openly gay man who has plans to marry his lover Andy (Andrew Airlie). The problem is that everyone in his family accepts it, the ever-growing gay community of Homer accepts it, but his father Ira (Edward Asner) won’t accept it. When Ira prepares a quiet rally to protest the marriage, he and Amos are forced into an emotional heart-to-heart confrontation.

Harvey Fierstein, author of this final segment is responsible for what is the weakest and most heavy-handed segment. Much of the story is devoted to dialogue that helps further the characters and the plot but ends up taking far too long to convey its message. Short and simple is better and “Amos and Andy” is neither. Asner is as good as always, but LeGros isn’t the least bit interesting.

 “A Friend of Dorothy’s” is a very emotional piece and Murphy does a terrific job in her role, but the situations seem forced and the atmosphere is a bit preachy. On the other hand, “M. Roberts” is the best of the scripts. It’s not too heavy-handed, its time period doesn’t make it any less relevant today and the performances by Weber and Thomas are so expertly crafted that you feel complete empathy for both.

The film has a strong political statement with an impassioned look at the ups and downs of the gay rights movement throughout recent U.S. history. The film’s power doesn’t come from taking radical stances as much as its description of the hazardous obstacles gay people have faced in their pursuit of equality. While it might not be for everyone, Common Ground is a good example of the use of filmed drama to help break down prejudicial barriers.