Love! Valour! Compassion!

Rated R, 115 min. Directed by Joe Mantello. Starring Jason Alexander, Randy Becker, Stephen Bogardus, John Glover, John Benjamin Hickey, Justin Kirk, Stephen Spinella.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 13, 1997

The Big Chill. The Boys in the Band. Anything by Chekhov. (I'll spare you the exclamation points.) These are some of the more discernible ingredients of Love! Valour! Compassion! All great models actually, and I don't really mean to give the impression that LVC is derivative or a copycat. It's just that… I don't know, there's always the distracting sense that the story's undergarments are poking through its seams. Mind you, it's good clean underwear, the kind you want to make sure you're wearing when wheeled into the emergency room, but it's not the kind of stuff that can pass for outer garments. Some of the awkwardness can surely be chalked up to the difficulties of transferring Terrence McNally's Tony Award-winning play to the screen and the inexperience of director Joe Mantello (also LVC's stage director), who here tackles his first film project. Yet, the problem goes beyond the film's staginess (although there's plenty of that to go around). It could even have something to do with the delicate difficulties involved in the successful transfer of stage camp to the more intimate level of film. But, all in all, those miscalculations are largely forgivable, given the genuinely likeable nature of the material and the natural impulse to embrace it to your heart. This is especially true with this particular cast of actors who, except for Jason Alexander, all created these roles on the stage and whose characterizations in the film exude an extremely lived-in and intimate knowledge of who these people are and what their relationships are about. It's in this sense that the movie shines: in its presentation of the many facets of relationships between loving gay men. It's here that the movie goes beyond The Boys in the Band and most of the contemporary gay cinema and becomes something that has more in common with The Big Chill's depiction of the continuity and sustenance of forged family relationships. But the way in which these relationships are played out over the course of three holiday weekends virtually screams out the words ”three-act play.” These are typical of the story's painfully obvious narrative constructions. It's not simply enough for there to be one actor (Glover) who plays the dual roles of twin brothers -- one stereotypically good and the other, of course, evil -- the brothers' surname must also be Jeckyll. A meaningful obviousness hangs in the air, whether it's the lusted-after Latino hunk who, in turn, desires the blind member of the group, or the aging choreographer and dancer who struts over his ménage from his practice room in the attic. By the time things conclude with a Chekhovian group swim in the moonlight (one of several scenes during which I can promise you there is, literally, no underwear showing) you may wish that some obliterating water was splashed over pages of the shooting script, but soon enough a feeling of love, valour, and compassion will wash over you. Just without the exclamation points.
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