Guys and Dolls

Gay cinema gets conventional.

I remember reading an oafish newspaper columnist once who was offended by all the homosexuality on TV and in movies, as though one couldn't turn the dial without seeing Oscar Wilde deepthroating Alec Baldwin. His reasoning was delightfully brain-damaged: He claimed that heterosexuals don't thrust their sexuality in everyone's faces, so why should gays?

Of course, so inured was he to the fact that just about every show on TV features the hideous spectacle of men kissing women, or girls kissing boys, or, God forbid, a straight couple actually holding hands, that he didn't realize how idiotic he sounded. It was reminiscent of the question that all kids ask their parents: Why is there a father's day and a mother's day but no children's day? The answer, of course, is that every day is heterosexual day.

So I guess it's nice to see gay cinema become as mundane as a Lifetime TV movie of the week. I guess. All over the Guy is certainly amusing enough as a standard boy-meets-boy/boy-loses-boy movie. In fact, the gay couple at the center of the film seems like they were barely re-written from a '70s heterosexual melodrama. Sure, they're both men, but their problems, don't you see, are the problems that all people face in this crazy world when they look for that thing that the French call "love."

The movie begins with Tom (Richard Ruccolo from TV's Two Guys and a Girl and a Walrus) telling a fellow 12-stepper the story of his ill-starred love for Eli. It's a pretty standard tale, with Tom's best friend Jackie and Eli's best friend Brett meeting in a furniture store and deciding to fix up their gay best friends as a means to have a vicarious romance.

When Tom and Eli's first date goes poorly due to Tom's love of drinking and Eli's love of Star Wars figurines, Brett and Jackie hook up for heterosexual love and then spend the rest of the movie trying to get Tom and Eli together.

They do, indeed, get together, and then break up, and then get back together, and then rinse, lather and repeat. It's all because of their screwed-up childhoods, see? Eli's parents were psychiatrists, and they made him play with naked dolls so that he'd be comfortable saying "penis" and "vagina." Tom's parents were alcoholics and they made him play with Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker so that he could learn how to say "I wouldn't drink so much if you weren't such a bitch."

Actually, the flashback sequences of Eli's childhood are pretty amusing. Andrea Martin from Second City TV plays Eli's mom, and she's a horrifying caricature of what parenting in the '70s would have been if Hugh Hefner and Gloria Steinem had been king and queen of the world. On SCTV Martin was always overshadowed by the more versatile Katherine O'Hara, but lately she's come into her own in such queer little movies as this and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

While Eli's life story comes across as a late-night TV skit, Tom's is pure Movie of the Week. It's all the kind of high melodrama and easy psychological explanation that make semiliterates like Oprah Winfrey believe they're smart enough to recommend Deepak Chopra to Kim Basinger. Luckily, Richard Ruccolo actually plays his part well enough to keep this stuff from becoming annoying.

Dan Bucatinsky (who wrote the film) is also pretty good as Eli, and Adam Goldberg, who plays Brett, is one of the better weirdo character actors out there. Nonetheless, someone decided that they needed to hire real stars to do bit parts. Unable to afford real stars, they then settled on Christina Ricci and Lisa Kudrow, who do meaningless walk-ons for the sole purpose of walking on.

Which his not to say that All over The Guy is a bad film. It's actually perfectly passable entertainment; it just feels more like a TV movie than a theatrical release. There's not much flair to the cinematography, there's not too much tension in the story, and the dialogue is reasonably witty without being challenging.

I guess the challenge is that a film of this quality that featured John Cusak and Julia Roberts as the couple would be expected to make a decent rake at the box office, whereas a film featuring two guys who are at least as pretty as Julia Roberts in the leads can be expected to receive warm receptions at a few festivals and small venues before hitting the specialty video store shelves.

And, of course, we've got people like our oafish columnist to thank for that. Really, if you just want to see a low-key, amusing little film that you'll forget about in a few hours, why not pass up the latest Antonio Banderas self-love fest and check out All over the Guy. Of course, if you're offended by homosexuality in cinema, you should just stay home and see if there are any Errol Flynn or Rock Hudson movies on the classics networks. Now that's good viewing!

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