GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM
Adam & Steve
Starring: Craig Chester, Malcom Gets, Parker Posey, Chris Kattan, Melinda Dillon, Sally Kirkland, Julie Hagerty
Rated R, 99 minutes
Many of my friends tell me I should turn in my "pink card." I don't listen to showtunes and the only movie with Joan Crawford or Bette Davis that I own is Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? I couldn't care less about fashion and I'm not overly fond of most cute romantic comedies. So, advertising Adam & Steve from writer/director Craig Chester as the gay Sleepless in Seattle is not the way to get my attention.
That said, it's not bad as far as cute romances go but it leaves a lot to be desired too. Still, give that director a cigar for the sheer chutzpah of the film's opening sequence. It's New York City, 1987. The setting is Glitter Night in a dance club. First we see Steve, muscles oiled and clad only in a thong and a haircut from an 80s metal band, dancing (badly) with a Madonna-esque floorshow. Enter Adam, dressed in a black outfit that resembles a bad painting of Little Lord Fauntleroy with an even worse haircut, who says to his overweight best friend Rhonda, "I don't think this is Goth Night." Then he locks eyes with Steve.
It seems like love at first sight, or maybe it's just the drugs. Steve gives Adam his first bump of cocaine; both men are stoned and wild for each other. They watch the sunrise from the Brooklyn Bridge and go back to Adam's place. The L word is even uttered. And then the unspeakable happens. The cocaine, you see, was cut with baby laxative and Steve... has an accident...
Flash forward 17 years. Adam is in recovery for drug problems that began that very night. He is unlucky with men and lives alone with his dog, Burt. One night he accidentally stabs Burt while cutting salami and rushes him to the emergency room. The staff psychologist, who conveniently spent a year in veterinarian school, treats his dog. This kindly, and hunky, savior is none other than Steve and the two lock eyes again. Neither of them recognizes the other from that disastrous one night stand and the audience waits for the moment when they realize that they have met before. You know it's coming. Will it spoil their blossoming romance?
Craig Chester, who stars as Adam, will be familiar to queer cinephiles from Swoon, Grief, Frisk and Kiss Me Guido. Malcom Gets, as Steve, was the blonde cartoonist on TV's Caroline in the City. Both men are out gay actors and Craig Chester made a point of saying in The Advocate that he was tired of films with straight actors unconvincingly playing gay. He wanted the chemistry that could only come from two men who are gay for the leads in his film.
I disagree with Chester's thesis that all straight men can't play credible love scenes. Yes, we've groaned through some calamitous couplings on the queer screen but nowadays most straight young actors are braver than Will Smith was when he made Six Degrees of Separation and refused to lock lips with a guy. Look at the passion when Heath Ledger pushes Jake Gyllenhaal against the wall and kisses him in Brokeback Mountain. But, that said, Chester and Gets do light up the screen in their love scenes There are at least sparks, if not full blown fireworks.
So... boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy back, we all know the story. Each boy has to have issues, of course, to complicate things. And this wouldn't be a romantic comedy without our boys meeting each other's parents and having a few kooky friends. Indie goddess Parker Posey plays Adam's friend Rhonda. She was his fellow Goth in the opening scene; now she's a very bad stand-up comic who makes jokes about how fat she is even though she is now thin as a rail. Saturday Night Live's Chris Kattan is Steve's roommate Michael, a pothead who has sex with homeless women so they won't be lonely.
But Adam and Steve's comedy vacillates between flashes of brilliance with other moments that just ring flat. Michael's character is a prime example. His performance needed either to be more deadpan or more crazed. Yes, I know that he is supposed to be annoying but he's rarely funny in the process. Much funnier was Adam's "cursed" family. His father is in a wheelchair, his mother wears a neck brace and a ceiling lamp falls on her head as she answers the door. Rhonda tells Steve that she ate there once and "a piece of Space Lab landed in their pool." But if only all the jokes were that good. A gag involving a beer bottle thrown by a homophobe is funny the first time but becomes tiresome on the third repetition. This occurs during the course of the requisite "cute montage" accompanied by one of those lame transitional songs that filmmakers insist on making audiences suffer through. But it's all a romantic movie, Adam says when the song finally ends. He feels like Julia Roberts and the Steve just has to say "And I'm Meg Ryan!"
Okay, enough about the parts that got on my nerves; there is much that is commendable in this film too. Having Adam and Steve two-step in a country hoedown was a nice change from the usual Queer as Folk dance club, and the film gets a lot of points for ending with John Lennon's classic ballad "Love." There are many nice directorial touches - the transition of Adam from a young Goth to current day is achieved through a beautifully choreographed camera move. A climactic country dance showdown ala Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is one of the film's highlights. Only don't listen too closely to the lyrics of the accompanying rockabilly tune "Shit Happens."
It's a piece of fluff, sometimes awkwardly made, but not without considerable charms. The script definitely needs work but, all in all, Adam & Steve meets the requirements of a feel-good date movie. And the opening date catastrophe helps rescue the film from completely being in Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan hell.