Acclaimed indie drama The Green arrives on home video at an interesting time, with the Penn State coaching scandal making the news. That particular story was a devastating example of real abuse at an educational institution, with those in charge taking a cavalier "look the other way" approach. Just as awful, but not covered nearly as much, are the cases in which the abuse is exaggerated or made up* - a situation that is dramatized in The Green.
The Green takes place in a small, semi-upscale community in Connecticut. The bucolic, politically liberal town attracts teacher/aspiring novelist Michael (Jason Butler Harner) and his restauranteur partner Daniel (Cheyenne Jackson), who are recent transplants from New York City. The move was Michael's idea, lured by a history teaching position at the local high school. The reluctant but game Daniel goes along and takes a job running a local coffee shop, confident that their 15-year relationship has a measure of stability.
At the school, Michael is settled with a bright bunch of students and a good friend in sarcastic co-worker Trish (Illeana Douglas), who maintains a positive outlook despite being diagnosed with cancer. He takes a special interest in one student, Jason (Chris Bert), a smart boy who has turned sullen and withdrawn. We find that Jason has a turbulent home life with his alchoholic mom (Karen Young) and a new, uncaring stepfather (Bill Sage) who is attempting to support the family by working as a janitor at Jason's school. Michael wants to reach out to Jason, but Jason resists the attention since it will only incite the homophobic bullies who torment him daily.
Michael's need to reach out, and Jason's resistance, comes to a head at a nighttime school assembly in which an altercation between the two is witness by several students, faculty and Jason' mom. The incident, which plays out rather harmlessly onscreen, prompts Jason to run away from home. His parents show up at the school the next morning with a lawyer in tow. Michael is placed on probation and escorted out of the school in handcuffs. Within an absurdly short time, Michael and Daniel become the town pariahs. Due to mounting gossip, a contractor who had been repairing their roof pulls out of the project, and Daniel loses a catering job at a charity event. The resulting stress even tests the patience of their closest friends. The duo hire Karen (Julia Ormond), a sympathetic lesbian lawyer who specializes in LGBT discrimination cases. Jason returns to his family, and Karen appears to have the case under control before a damaging secret from Michael's past threatens to destroy the case - along with Michael and Daniel's relationship.
The Green is an absorbing drama, directed with great sensitivity by Steven Williford. Jason Butler Harmer delivers a nuanced performance as Michael; the scenes with him and Cheyenne Jackson being domestic together have a warmth and realism missing from these types of movies. I also enjoyed Illeana Douglas as Trish, a character who would interesting enough on her own regardless of her cancer diagnosis (I suppose the cancer was there to point out What Matters Most). Julia Ormond also contributes a worthwhile turn as a saintly woman whose only weakness is not having the cliché lesbian familiarity with power tools. Other characters come across as not fully formed, however. Jason and his family, for instance, are depicted in a straightforward "white trash" manner that doesn't allow much room for development. Most distressingly, the story takes on a soapy, melodramatic angle in its final third, calling to mind the more hysterical offerings from the Lifetime, Television for Women® channel (the director has a background in daytime soaps, natch).
Don't let the overly dramatic ending dissuade you, however. This is potent watching on a subject that doesn't get broached very often in film.
Fun fact: this film was written by Paul Marcarelli, the "can you hear me?" Verizon commercial spokesman.
The FilmBuff screener disc sent to this reviewer has a good stereo soundtrack. The retail edition includes 2.0 and 5.1 surround sound with optional closed captioning.
The widescreen picture, slightly more rectangular than 16x9, has a fine transfer that is marred a bit by a pixelated effect (which may be a reflection of the screener disc, not the commercially released DVD).
No extras were included on the screener disc. The retail edition contains deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer.
The Green explores how prejudice and homophobia can creep into even the most supposedly open-minded community. What begins as subdued slice-of-life depiction of a mature gay couple in Connecticut eventually becomes undone by soapy melodramatics. The striking subject matter and engaging cast are strong enough to give it a slight Recommended rating, however.
* Witness the case of the Arizona school nurse who was sentenced to a prison term for indecently touching a 13 year-old male student, an accusation which was later found to be made up by the boy's mother. The mom was callously seeking to gain a settlement from her son's wealthy school district.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.