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In Common Ground director Donna Deitch (Desert Hearts) uses three stories to explore attitudes toward homosexuality in the fictional small town of Homer, Connecticut, over a period of almost half a century. "A Friend of Dorothy's" tells the story of a girl who returns to Homer in 1954 after leaving the Navy. When it emerges that she was discharged after being arrested in a gay bar, she is ostracized by everyone except the owner of a local diner, a woman who has her own reasons for wanting to help Dorothy to escape. "M. Roberts" is set in 1974, when a gay teacher (Steven Weber) has to decide whether to jeopardize his career in order to help a troubled pupil who has been targeted by homophobic bullies. Finally, in present-day Homer, "Andy & Amos" follows the preparations for a gay wedding. While protesters gather on the town commons, Amos's father (Ed Asner) has to choose between long-held prejudices and his love for his son. Thanks to a Harvey Fierstein script that combines sexual politics with humor and believable characters, this is the most successful part of Common Ground. Ed Asner's gradual realization that his son's monogamous, long-term gay relationship is more conventional than most heterosexual marriages is deftly handled, achieving a balance between message and drama that the other stories lack.
Despite the credentials of their authors (playwrights Paula Vogel and Terrence McNally) the first two segments feel more like lectures than stories. Their impact is weakened by clumsy dialogue (Dorothy's mother actually says, "I have no daughter") and stereotypical characters. The film's message is an important one: the road to equality is built upon the struggles and sacrifices of past generations. Unfortunately Common Ground is too uneven to deliver that message with the force it deserves. --Simon Leake
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