I don’t really have too much experience with LGBTQ+ films, particularly lesbian ones. I’ve only ever watched two and, going into them, I didn’t really know what to expect out of a genre I’d never watched. However, I was pleasantly surprised with Andy Kirshner and Debbie Williams’s film Liberty’s Secret (2016), which turned out to be a light-hearted romantic musical with an absolutely hilarious side plot of political satire.
The story revolves around Liberty Smith (Jaclene Wilk), a preacher’s daughter, who is chosen to be presidential candidate Kenny Weston’s (John Lepard) campaign spokesperson after the country falls in love with her beautiful singing voice. During the campaign, Liberty meets Nikki Levine (Cara AnnMarie), Weston’s campaign staffer, and the two slowly fall in love throughout the course of the film. This causes problems, however, both with Liberty’s religious father and the conservative political campaign the two women are working for.
The Broadway-style music was definitely the highlight of this film. I loved how powerful and well-written all the musical performances were, and the cast and crew definitely worked well together to produce enjoyable music for this film. The topics explored in the music had a wide range, from romance to loss to religion. They even managed to turn a song about conversion therapy into something hilariously entertaining and light-hearted. It’s clear to me that the heart and soul of Liberty’s Secret lies in the music – it was probably what the writers put the most energy on and cared the most about.
The writing of Liberty’s Secret was also absolutely wonderful. I found myself laughing at a lot of the politically-charged humor (like when a conservative politician stated that life starts at inception), and even the moments that would have been more upsetting in other films were softened by well-placed jokes. It wasn’t as if this film was forcing comedy for the sake of calling itself a comedy. If humor didn’t seem appropriate in some parts, the writers were wise enough not to include it. Regardless, one of my favorite characters, Kenny Weston, in Liberty’s Secret was a product of this great comedic writing. His character was a complete satire of conservative politicians, poking fun at and only slightly exaggerating the incompetence and lack of intelligence these people have.
As this film did not have the highest budget and required an Indiegogo fundraiser of a little over $20,000 to aid in its production, there were some technical issues. At times the editing job was sloppy. There were some strange slow-motion shots incorporated at random points that I think were meant to add dramatic effect, but fell off the mark. Also, during some of the musical numbers, some of the singing wasn’t synced up with the actor’s mouths, which made me lose focus on what was going on at some parts. However, like I said, because the funding for this film was at least partially crowdsourced, these editing mistakes are understandable, and didn’t detract from the overall experience of the movie too much.
I also found some issues with the pacing, particularly with the romance. Liberty and Nikki go from awkward yet friendly acquaintances to full-blown lovers in the span of just a couple scenes. There wasn’t enough build-up to establish any sort of connection or chemistry between the two, yet, before I knew it, Nikki was singing a song proclaiming her undying love for Liberty. Obviously, months had passed in the film, giving them time to fall for each other, but because the audience doesn’t get to see that, their love comes a bit out of left field.
Liberty’s Secret is a fluffy, heart-warming story, and I think, largely, that’s what this film was intended to be. The plot and the characters were cute and sweet enough to satisfy you with just that. It was especially wonderful to see a LGBTQ+ film where no one dies and the characters get a happy ending, as this is something that’s lacking in queer film.
However, there were definitely darker, more critical themes portrayed in this film.. One major aspect of this film was political satire, so I think that Kirshner and Williams were trying to criticize conservative politicians.. Why else would they have included such hilarious scenes with the ridiculously stupid and ineffective Kenny Weston?
This combination of political satire with a cute, lesbian romance story was certainly effective in balancing the two extremes out. The film ends up being neither too serious nor too fluffy by the end. However, the two separate focal themes for this film do end up clashing at times. For example, we never end up finding out if Weston wins the presidential campaign. I’m sure we’re supposed to assume he loses as he’s incredibly incompetent, but it was still a little frustrating as the film did spend a lot of time focusing on his campaign (and he was absolutely hilarious, so I’m a little salty we didn’t find out).
Speaking of the campaign, I was pretty confused throughout the film as to why the hell Nikki was even a part of it. She was annoyed with Weston during the entire thing, hated her job as campaign staffer, and definitely did not agree with Weston’s stance against same-sex marriage. It made absolutely no sense, and I was waiting the entire time for somebody to explain how she ended up working for this campaign, but the film completely ignores this.
These aren’t really criticisms of the actual film, as I understand that timing and budget played a role in why these questions weren’t answered. However, it definitely was a problem with the two separate themes they were trying to get across, as all the political analysis got buried under the cute lesbian romance by the end.
The film succeeds in portraying a fluffy lesbian romance where nobody dies and the characters get a happy ending. This was really nice to see, as a lot of queer films are quite dark and upsetting in nature, but Liberty’s Secret avoids this trope and gave us an adorably sweet lesbian comedy, instead.
However, there has been frustration amongst non-straight women online that the romance in Liberty’s Secret was told through a straight man’s perspective. At least one of the directors, Andy Kirshner, is a straight man, so it’s understandable where these concerns come from. Some women thought that Liberty and Nikki had zero chemistry and that the directors didn’t really capture what a lesbian relationship is actually like. I can definitely understand people’s frustrations with this, but I hope that a cute and happy lesbian film like Liberty’s Secret will help pave the way for more cute and happy lesbian films directed by actual queer women.
Because I don’t know too much about lesbian romance films, I don’t know how Liberty’s Secret holds up against other ones of this genre, especially those with bigger budgets. However, the film is genuinely funny and heart-warming with a (refreshingly!) happy ending, so I think it makes for a great watch for a lazy Sunday hanging out with friends. Not to mention that, with our current political climate, it’s always fun to poke some fun at conservative politicians, even when they’re fictional.
We consume quite a bit of coffee (and tea) as we work on Girls in Capes. If you loved this article, you can show us your support by buying a staff writer a cup of coffee.