Monday, January 7, 2013

The Doctor's Wife isn't
who you'd expect

With marriage equality finally legal in Maryland, there are probably still a lot of questions weighing on the minds of those who are planning to tie the knot, mainly about how they will be received as a married couple. One would hope that with marriages now being legal, that society would simply change overnight and accept everyone as equal but there are sure to still be some out there who will react negatively.

While things are slowly turning in America, Australia's political leaders are still against marriage equality even though most polls show public support on the issue. A new documentary from the land Down Under might be a good starting point for people who may view same-sex couples as a threat or just something alien to a "normal" married couple.

The Doctor's Wife tells the true story of Vincent Cornelisse, a doctor from Brisbane, and his partner Jonathan Duffy, a performer/filmmaker. To pay back Vincent's medical school loans, he has the opportunity to take on a position as a country doctor in the tiny town of Mundubbera, population at just under 2000. It's sort of like the fictional set-up from the TV series Northern Exposure. Jono is torn about leaving the big city and his job, but it's the only way Vinny can pay back the loan. So they pack up their belongings and head to the country. The film, which was put together by Jonathan, tells their story from a first person perspective.

The documentary starts off with Jonathan and Vincent relating how they first met, which is pretty humorous since they both thought the other was a drug addict, and features reactions from their friends and family members to their big move to the country. Some are scared for them, some think they'll become local celebrities … but to Jonathan's horror, he realizes that most of them think he's a "screaming queen" and will stand out – not in a good way – in a small country town (he's really not that bad, at least not how he appears in the film).

But something happened when they arrived in Mundubbera: they were embraced with open arms. Everyone in town knew a new doctor was coming from the article in the paper, and they were (mostly) aware that he had a partner who was male because they didn't hide that in the announcement. It seemed that the key to their success in town – besides Vincent being the best doctor they've had in thirty years – was that they got involved in the daily life of the town, from eating at the local pub to joining various committees. The townspeople compare Jono to the past doctor's wives (a term he whole-heartedly embraces) and speak of how none of those before him ever got involved, setting themselves apart from the locals which made them all feel that the doctor and his wife were better than them. Their involvement in the community (mostly Jonathan's, since Vincent worked tirelessly at the hospital) made them the most-loved people in town. But the fairy tale has a bittersweet ending that I won't spoil.

As a documentary of Vincent and Jonathan's lives during this major transition, I enjoyed seeing what they accomplished and hearing from their new friends just how easily they were accepted by the townspeople, young and old (and it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows as one person recants a discussion featuring the usual "it's not right because the Bible says so" argument, but that seemed to have been an isolated occurrence). I was in tears by the end because it was so uplifting and it gives one hope for the world, that if people can just see that we're all the same no matter who we love, that we can all live in this world together.

What I didn't like about the movie is more on the technical side, and coming from a production background, perhaps those things bother me more than the average viewer. As it is, I absolutely hated some of the transitional elements used between scenes, some of the more pretentious montages (including one lengthy shot of Vinny's and Jono's faces in a split screen with one on the left and one on the right as they opened and closed their eyes), and the awful ink blot animation that really stood out from the rest of the movie and made things appear more sinister than it should (it seemed more like a filter in iMovie that Jonathan just couldn't resist using and it bugged me). I did like the split screen of Jono talking to himself, even if I could clearly see the dividing line.

Those technical issues aside, the film shows the positive side of a situation that most people might expect would go terribly wrong. And it really gets the message of acceptance across without beating the viewer over the head. Perhaps those that still have an intolerant attitude would have their eyes opened by this movie, while those of us on the other side of the matter who still fear that intolerance could also learn that just being yourself and being a part of the community as a whole, not just the insular LGBT community, could go miles in showing everyone else that we're all human beings no matter who we love.

The Doctor's Wife is available on DVD and from Amazon Instant Video, and includes a director's commentary, deleted scenes, and a "Shameles Self Promotion" video.