The stirring new documentary The Case Against 8, showcasing the lawyers and plaintiffs who challenged California's 2008 gay marriage ban, is the best kind of popular history, a film that trembles with tears and hope, and I dare you to get through it without bawling some yourself. The filmmakers target the heart rather than the complex legal maneuverings. Expect to spend more time relishing the courage of the plaintiffs, two sunny and charismatic California couples, than pondering the Equal Protection Clause or the issues of standing that the case ultimately turns on.
That's no betrayal of the wrangling of the plaintiffs' ace legal team, headed up by the strangest of bedfellows, David Boies and Ted Olson, the attorney avatars of, respectively, blue and red America, who squared off before the Supreme Court on no less a case than Bush v. Gore. (Olson won.) Boies and Olson prove fascinating characters, but we rarely see them before a judge. In most of the proceedings cameras were banned from the courtroom, so the directors resort to footage of the plaintiffs reading from their own testimony after the fact.
That move turns out to be revelatory. As they declaim their own words, often professions of the deep and abiding love each shares for their partner, we can imagine the drama of the trial that we're missing. We're also treated to something even grander: regular folks revisiting the plain language with which they changed the world, each clearly moved and humbled, each understanding that, in some real sense, a historic wrong was righted by nothing less than their own love.