A gay take on The Big Chill or Peter's Friends, Love! Valour! Compassion! began its life as an off-Broadway play in 1994 and went on to become a prize-winning stage hit. The movie version opens things up a bit (well, the eight men at the centre of proceedings get to wander about the grounds of their weekend retreat), but on the whole it's remarkably like the stageversion. This is unsurprising: it was made by the play's director, Joe Mantello, in his movie debut, and features most of the ensemble cast from the theatrical version. Playwright Terrence McNally even contributed the screenplay, and its origins show: - bags of dialogue, one location, a pithy remark at the close of each scene... Happily, he's retained most of his great, catty lines.
As with most circle-of-friends movies, we at first appear to be watching a bunch of stereotypes: there's a rotund, queeny one who enjoys show tunes; a hot young Latino who'll rut with anyone; an ageing and bearded worrywart; an effeminate chap who enjoys sewing; a bitter, twisted, piano-playing Englishman; a happily married "role model" couple (both male, naturally); and an object of lust.
But as time passes the parts start to flesh out. Especially impressive are Glover, in duel roles as John, the brooding British composer, and James, his sweeter AIDS-stricken twin; and Judy Garlander Buzz, played by Jason Alexander off Seinfeld, whose bitchy brio hides (quelle surprise)
a sensitive heart.
It sounds a bit On Golden Pond, doesn`t it? Except all the female parts have been edited out, and you get naked men - lots of naked men - instead of Jane Fonda in her bikini. A more important difference, however, is that this film has a far lighter, funner touch - - and that's despite all this talk of HIV and AIDS (dated, incidentally, since treatment has made big advances since the play was written). Thank the tangy humour and killer lines for that.
Mantello directs well, and is clearly great with his actors, but needs to learn more about the dramatic impact of imagery and location before he'll be waving an Oscar about. Still, congratulations are due: this a gay film that encourages you to forget the sexuality and treat these guys as normal folk stuggling with normal emotions. You might pick up the odd interior decorating tip too.