So genuine is their feeling that we feel we have intruded, that we need to step back quietly and close the door on their emotion.
Having earned its cast, credentials, and a Tony as a Broadway play, Terrence McNally's "Love! Valour! Compassion!" has made the transfer to film in the sure hands of director Joe Mantello. This film about homosexual men crosses into mainstream appeal through the force of its individual stories. The whole of it cries out that everyone needs someone to love. That universal vulnerability hits such a strong note here that the sound of new ground being broken is barely heard. Male nudity and male emotion, rarely portrayed this openly, seem incidental to loneliness and need.
In a big old country house by a lake, Gregory (Stephen Bogardus) plays host to a group of gay friends who gather on summer weekends to sort out the problems and pleasures of their alliances. They meet in the melancholy air of the shadow of AIDS: one of them is HIV-positive, the visiting brother of another is dying. None of them, we know, looks forward to old age.
Gregory's blind lover, Bobby (Justin Kirk), arrives. So do Arthur (John Benjamin Hickey) and Perry (Stephen Spinella), now in their 14th year of quarrelsome yet enduring domesticity. The air is filled with literary allusions and collective lust for Ramon (Randy Becker), a handsome young dancer who has come to be with John (John Glover), who exudes a steady bitterness of expression and thought. John's kind brother, James, dying slowly, is the grim symbol of the future.
And then there is Buzz (Jason Alexander), who floats among them all with an astonishing range of feeling that he is quite willing to display. Watching his friends carefully, he absorbs their happiness and pain, and returns to them his own gentle humanity. Jason Alexander--chunky, short, balding, and naked in an apron--can look ridiculous without compromising his dignity. His Buzz is so essentially sure of his fine core that he could never seem silly for more than a moment. He is a giant of decency and compassion.
When the group gathers in tutus to practice a scene from Swan Lake for an AIDS benefit, the lingering stereotype of gay men in drag surfaces, for the straight world, with familiar force. What is this common denominator, this love of drag, this exhibitionist streak that covers the universal need for love? And yet, here, a prophetic voice-over envelops the spectacle in sadness. Joe Mantello repeatedly builds the power of his movie with just such juxtapositions of sorrow and joy.
The accumulated force of these performances washes across the theater. Lesser actors might easily have hit wrong notes that would have diminished the power of the story. Instead, these fine performers capture a reality and nail it to the ground with their sure perceptions. So genuine is their feeling that we feel we have intruded, that we need to step back quietly and close the door on their emotion. This is their private, darkly moving weekend in the country.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 490
Studio : Fine Line Pictures
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h55m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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