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Created Equal

These days it's a lot more plausible for little girls to dream big when they're thinking of their careers. Of course they won't all get to be astronauts or Olympic gold medalists, but it's all right for them to think big and hopefully not take too much teasing for it. These days you can even find female movie reviewers like me. But there are still a few career paths out there that aren't open to women no matter what, and the film Created Equal tackles one such path: becoming a Catholic priest.

A young nun named Alejandra Batista (Edy Ganem) has dreamt of the priesthood since she was a child, but has always run into one fundamental obstacle -- her gender. She feels this is a genuine calling for her, though, and finally feels compelled to file a lawsuit against the Church for gender discrimination. It's the longest of long shots -- you might call it a Hail Mary -- but after calling in some family favors Allie gets a high-priced law firm to represent her for free.

But this case is as controversial as it gets, and Mr. Dunbar (John Newberg), the head of the firm, wants it to go away. So he gives it to Tommy Riley (Aaron Tveit), who is a talented lawyer but also hates going into court and settles as many cases as he can, probably to give him more time with his many girlfriends. At first Tommy has no problem with this new case, picturing a generous settlement that lets everyone go on about their lives without too many ruffled feathers. Allie has her own ideas, however, and none of them involve settling for anything less than her admission to the seminary.

Protesters are out in force and it's hard to say which side is angrier about the situation, but Allie is determined. Even when one protester (Spence Maughon) singles her out for his special attention she still feels this is her calling. Slowly, she wins over Tommy -- much to the surprise of his usual team, investigator Willis (Yohance Myles) and second chair Jane (Lauren Helling) -- and before he knows it he's preparing for the trial of his life.

And the legal side of the fight won't be easy, either, as the defense is led by the formidable Monsignor Renzulli (Lou Diamond Phillips), who thinks it's ridiculous that things have gotten this far. He never quite calls Allie a foolish, stubborn girl who's wasting everyone's time, but I'm sure he thinks that more than once. As the trial goes on, the stakes only get higher, especially since Allie's stalker is as determined as she is, and he doesn't seem all that interested in staying within the law.

Edy Ganem couldn't be more charming as Allie, with her quietly unshakable faith, unfailing politeness, and gentle sense of humor. Aaron Tveit, meanwhile, manages the great feat of playing a shiftless womanizer who's also a likable character. Allie is admittedly squeaky clean, but otherwise few characters are completely good or bad -- yes, the Church's representatives aren't exactly warm and welcoming, but there's also a sense that they genuinely feel they're in the right and can't grasp why the established order might need to change.

The plotline involving Allie's stalker feels a bit rushed and underdeveloped at times, but overall it's a solid courtroom drama with a good dose of action. I also liked the way Tommy's character arc was handled -- the case changes him, but it's a slower, realistic change rather than the usual unconvincing epiphany. I'll give it four out of five. The courtroom scenes focus more on realism than dramatic fireworks, but I thought it worked well and made for an enjoyable movie. Big changes are always slow, but sometimes it only takes one person to get them started.

Tommy being yelled at by his boss, wishing he was anywhere but there.


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