Saturday, June 17, 2006

Film Review #46: Adam and Steve – Broadcast 6/15/2006 on Women's Voices Radio WAER Syracuse 88.3 FM *** Originally the religious right linked the names “Adam and Steve” as part of their campaign against gay marriage. You might have heard them chanting the slogan, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” In the time-honored tradition of oppressed groups taking back the language, Craig Chester has now made a movie with two gay protagonists named – well, Adam and Steve. Besides writing and directing the film, Craig Chester plays Adam. Malcolm Gets, formerly of TV’s Caroline in the City, plays Steve. Comedienne Parker Posey plays Adam’s ditzy best buddy Rhonda & Saturday Night Live’s Chris Kattan plays Steve’s ditzy straight roommate Michael. *** We should start with Craig Chester himself, a well-respected & hard-working actor on the indie scene since the 80’s. He’s been involved with Sundance projects, he played one of the leads in 1992’s Swoon, about the Loeb-Leopold child murder in the 1920’s – worth catching if you have netflicks, by the way. He’s also appeared in films like Mary Harron’s Who Shot Andy Warhol? You’ll find Chester quoted extensively in the new spring issue of Movie Maker Magazine in film critic David Sterritt's thoughtful article on the influence of Brokeback Mountain and other gay cinema. Craig Chester has now branched out from acting to writing & directing; he’s also got another film called Save Me! in production for 2007 release. *** So Adam and Steve is Craig Chester’s first feature film. It’s slated for DVD release in both the US & England on August 21st, although this week this relatively new film is playing at only three regular movie theaters in the country. I suspect that Adam and Steve will mostly do well on exactly the kind of platform it’s getting here in Syracuse – festivals & fund-raisers. I wish this were a cross-over film but alas, that is not likely. *** Adam and Steve begins in 1987 New York City, 17 years before the main story’s present-day romantic comedy plays out. In their younger incarnations, Adam & Rhonda were black-clad Goths, & Steve was a glitter dancer in a glam chorus line. This establishing pick-up between our two heroes ends disastrously, a point we’ll come back to. Fast forward to the present: Adam, now in recovery from coke, is an ornithologist with a dog named Burt. Steve’s a fastidious psychiatrist. Through a Rube Goldberg contraption of a plot twist, they hook up again & a really rather endearing romance ensues, complete with meeting both sets of quirky parents, struggles over commitment & a marriage proposal, Rhonda’s efforts at stand-up comedy in empty clubs, & AA meetings. *** Always lurking, however, are the neighborhood gay basher & the long-ago encounter, which neither at first recalls. The latter is not an insurmountable crisis: it all does work out & toward the end sort of morphs into a musical too. There’s a nod to Brokeback in a snazzy, impressive Western-themed dance number. There's also a moment when Steve, to prove his love, breaks into a song about how somewhere he must have done something good in his miserable childhood. You know the one – I think it’s from The Sound of Music. Actually a character in one of my favorite TV shows, Boston Legal, burst into this very same song during his wedding this spring, only Shirley Schmidt – that is, Candace Bergen – was on hand to whip her head around & squint in disbelief. *** There is a lot of that sort of thing in Adam and Steve – abrupt, vertigo-inducing swerves of tone, Saturday Night Live-style skits beamed down into the middle of serious scenes as though from the Enterprise itself. I don’t mind the changes in tone all that much, though some are ill-advised & clumsy. Some extremely serious filmmakers are working hard these days to inject a more life-like range of mood & tone in their films. That's legitimate, though Adam and Steve lacks a Candace Bergen to stand in for us all in marking the whiplash at its most extreme moments, a function not really served by Steve's own horror at his past. *** The love story is well-played & affecting, emerging periodically from a careening wackiness. But I wonder about that. How much is uproarious farce on-screen & how much is our own on-going blend of relief & hope that the worst might be over? No, the failure at cross-over appeal, I’m afraid, occurs right at the film’s beginning with its 1987 prologue. Most reviewers have handled this scene with the word “scatological,” making it an inside joke. So if you know anything about doing cocaine & cutting it with baby laxative, you’ll get it. Let’s be honest: this scene is offensive – down to the splash of Steve’s feces on Adam’s already heavily mascara-smudged face. *** A key here is that it’s offensive to Craig Chester too – the excesses, the foolishness & the posturing, the damage that people did themselves. Who among us does not look 17 years back without some mortification? Chester’s sense of camp & his eye for excess are both unerring, & although he says this film is supposed to be “dessert” after the “heavier meal” of Brokeback, I think his aims are more substantial. It’s worth watching to see how his grasp matches his reach in future efforts. But this is probably not the best next film for your brother-in-law who just loved La Cage aux Folies. *** Adam and Steve screens Sat., June 17th at the Eastwood Palace, 2384 James St., at 7:00 p.m. Sponsored by the Stonewall Committee as a fund-raiser for their LGBT booth at the New York State Fair.