|Love! Valour! Compassion!
MPAA rating (or equivalent): Rlanguage; nudity
THIS LATEST FILM EXCURSION into homosexual lifestyles breaks little new ground sociologically, but it's a considerably better movie qua movie than I expected from the campy ad campaign. If you liked Marvin's Room you should like Love! Valour! Compassion! for the same reasons: the operative word is compassion; if there was any valour (as in the fabric, not "valor," as Gene Siskel mispronounced it in a promo), I missed it. Love, well of course you'd have that at least in a manner of speaking in a movie whose entire cast of characters consists of eight gay men.
There's also considerable nudity here in skinny dipping and sunbathing scenes, and some kissing that goes beyond anything I'd seen in a male-male R-rated setup before, and for these reasons I'd advise parents to take the R-rating seriously.
Over the course of a summer the eight men gather for three holiday weekendswhich turn into three acts in playwright Terrance McNally's screenplay based on his Tony-award-winning Broadway play of the same name. Their lives, values, fears and hopes unfold in the course of the three get-togethers at a totally isolated large victorian house which one of them owns on several lakefront acres. The most poignant scene in this film is a climactic freezing of the action reminiscent of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, during which a narrator tells the time and circumstances of each character's death. Although two of the men are dying of AIDS, one of the major points the film makes is that we're all dying of something, and some of us without HIV may precede to our final leave-taking neighbors with the disease.
Like most screenplay adaptations from the stage, there are places where the dialog is, for want of a better word, stagy, and at least once I felt barraged by chatter which is more effective in a live presentation than on film. But on the whole director Joe Mantello's production, which uses all but one of the cast members from the live play, works. Jason Alexander, the sidekick on TV's Seinfeld sitcom, has been brought in to play Buzz, an effeminate homosexual with AIDS, who takes up with another character, visiting from England, whose days are likewise numbered. The compassion they show in their support of each other rather than dying ignominiously is the dramatic crux of the story. There are other messages here, including the predictable distinction between lust and love, and commentary on the difference between cruising and commitment.
How much different is this from Boys in the Band? That 1970's groundbreaking treatment of the far less articulated homosexual subculture of that time was more dramatic and drew out better the spiritual issues that plague many homosexualsor maybe the point is just that few think of the spiritual issues in the '90's. Mantello admits the similarities between the two ensemble productions and summarizes the difference in an apt phrase: That was the '70's; this is the '90's.
Photo © by the film's distributor
© 1997, Jon Kennedy