Documentary looks at McGreevey's 2nd act

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"Fall to Grace": Cheryl Collins (left), Jim McGreevey, and Shirley Reeves in prison counseling. HBO

* FALL TO GRACE. 8 p.m. Thursday, HBO.

 

JIM McGREEVEY and Alexandra Pelosi were bound to cross paths sooner or later.

McGreevey is the subject of "Fall to Grace," Pelosi's latest documentary, which premieres Thursday on HBO.

The former governor of New Jersey, McGreevey resigned in 2004 after what he said was an affair (a former aide was claiming sexual harassment), famously declaring himself, as his wife looked on, to be "a gay American."

He now works with poor women, many of them in prison, trying to help them turn their lives around. He's studied at a seminary and still hopes to become an Episcopal priest.

Pelosi, daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, started her filmmaking career turning her handheld camera on politicians ("Journeys With George," "Diary of a Political Tourist"), then did a couple of films involving evangelist Ted Haggard (pre- and post-sex scandal).

In 2010, she turned her attention to the poverty that exists even in one of America's richest areas, in "Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County."

Pelosi tends to approach her subjects with an irreverence that you either find charming or not (it's not strictly about politics, but party lines may be involved).

McGreevey, of course, is an even more polarizing figure. Years after leaving office, he retains the politician's touch, making personal connections everywhere he goes, joking, during a visit to Newark: "I only had problems with white folks. In the 'hood, I'm good."

Maybe, as Pelosi's film suggests, he's actually who he says he is, a man of faith trying to come to terms with his past.

Or does the same need for approval that drove him into politics still motivate McGreevey?

"Coming out was a great gift," he tells Pelosi, but it led him to challenge himself: "Where else did I go wrong?"

After first leaving office, while he was writing a book and doing some consulting, he said, he felt an emptiness, and wondered: "Is this the second act of the same play? I mean, what did I learn by this cataclysmic fall?"

Pelosi and her camera follow McGreevey inside a prison; on the streets, where he tries to maintain contact with women he'd been counseling; and into his church. There, dressed in a white robe, the former Roman Catholic now assists priests while waiting for the call to join them that he can't be sure will ever come.

But Pelosi's also with him as he mows the lawn at the not-so-humble home he shares with partner Mark O'Donnell. The 17-room house, in Plainfield, N.J., reportedly cost O'Donnell $1.4 million in 2006, and the former governor's at pains to make it clear that he's not the one paying for it.

But whether McGreevey's "fall" may have been cushioned doesn't seem to matter to the women he's counseling.

"His love radiates, and you can tell that it's genuine," says a young ex-gang leader at Hudson County Correctional Center.

"This is what Jim lives for, I believe," she says. "I mean, I understand Jim has his life, his loves and all of that. But I believe that a part of this fills a piece of Jim, too."

 


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