Heaven's a Drag
1994, R, 96 min. Directed by Peter Mackenzie Litten. Starring Thomas Arklie, Ian Williams, Dilly Keane, Tony Slattery, Jean Boht, John Altman.
REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., Oct. 13, 1995
Blending comedy and drama in a film about AIDS can be a difficult task, and Peter Litten's first foray into solo directing (previous co-directions include Slaughter High and Living Doll) makes a valiant but ultimately uneven effort to portray the effects that AIDS has on both an HIV-positive man and his HIV-negative lover, friends, and family. Heaven's a Drag is about Simon (Arklie) and Mark (Williams), two gay men coping with Mark's HIV status. Simon, perhaps in an effort to deny Mark's impending death, cruises clubs and sleeps with other men while maintaining a relatively loving relationship with Mark, a drag performer at one of the local gay clubs. In a narrative twist reminiscent of Truly, Madly, Deeply, the film shifts from drama to near-slapstick comedy as Mark comes back from beyond to "haunt" Simon, whom Mark believes is not accepting his death. There are a couple of problems with the film, however, that keep it from succeeding on all levels. For most of Heaven's a Drag, musical director Roger Bolton's soundtrack is simply too overbearing. Its presence is so intrusive that the music robs potentially powerful scenes of all subtlety. Another weak area concerns the scripting of the commitment levels between Simon and Mark. At one point in the film it seems as if Mark's feelings for Simon are not reciprocated and have never been, which suggests a more challenging (and rewarding) path for the film to take. Unfortunately, the last few scenes cancel out this more interesting development, leaving the film with an ending that, while plausible considering Simon's character, seems unsatisfying and false. The second half of Heaven's a Drag has many enjoyable comedic moments, but its handling of the heavier scenes such as Mark's death are either too dismissive or too melodramatic. To make a film that depicts AIDS as more than a hopelessly tragic and one-dimensional situation is a tall order, and Litten's desire to do so is well intentioned. Equally credit-worthy are the lead performances of Arklie and Williams, who flesh out the characters as two engaging and distinct personalities. While the film's weaknesses at times threaten to undermine the entire project, Heaven's a Drag does present a refreshing alternative to other films that focus solely on the horrors of the AIDS virus.