Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 12 January 1998


Film Review by Leo Skir


What happened? How did an OK book become a no-kay movie?

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at those conferences that must have taken place before scriptwriter John Lee Hancock tapped out this leaden, nowhere script.

Who was the One who wondered: How-do-we-capture the ordinary (read "straight") man or woman and bring them from the street into our darkened movie theatre?

This is a movie about a gay man who wins a jury trial.

There was Philadelphia.

After someone says that magic word, visions of huge grosses and Academy Awards dance in Hollywood-exec heads.

They remember that Philadelphia had a straight lawyer (very straight and even homophobic) become involved in the case.


Idea! (in the old days the Good Ole Boys would have chomped on their cigars, but not now)

Why not make the Narrator straight?

At this point, one mild executive notes there's nothing to indicate the Narrator's orientation.

Someone else points out that the book doesn't say he's gay.

It's settled. We beef up the narrator's part. There's a permanent party going on next door with a straight male-female couple. Why not have him give the film a bit of straight love-interest by getting the Narrator involved with the dame?

The thoughtful executive objects: But isn't she a mistress of the man next door? Wouldn't our hero be coming in on wet decks?

And gliding into the water is John Cusack, cast as the Yankee, an innocent magazine writer who has come to Savannah to write about the legendary party-giver, decorator and antique dealer, Jim Williams.

Let's give credit and condolences to "novel" writer John Berendt who's had to change a lot of names in the book but has given us something close to an interesting series of sketches of Savannah today, something like the readable "My Most Unforgettable Character" and "Life in these United States" pieces in the Reader's Digest, held together by the book's account of the Jim Williams trial after he's killed his part-time housemate, Billy Hanson.

The book has a nice chapter about a Real Life character, The Lady Chablis who's written her own book, Hiding My Candy. In the Berendt book she gives a good account of herself and some sense of the hard life a drag queen has in the harsh world of Savannah boites. And Hiding My Candy gives us a realistic account of what her life, including her childhood, has been.

In the book she's not connected to the trial.

But in the movie!

Who made the changes? Was it director Eastwood, holding the purse-strings, who made the Lady Chablis a non-lady? He first has a sequence where the narrator is astonished when he realizes this stunning creature is really a man and later one sad-exchange (not in the book, not faithful to the book's spirit, not what The Lady would say) where she (who has not had her penis removed) offers her "candy" to the reporter who nervously and angrily tells the unladylike Lady that (a) he's straight and (b) not interested in her candy.

Clint Eastwood has cast his daughter, Alison Eastwood, who is truly handsome and sexy, as the movie's "love interest." That's nice. Real nice. But the film depends on having Billy Hanson as a James Dean-like sex-center. The actor, Jude Law, who's cast as Billy, doesn't (I blush) cut the mustard.

Kevin Spacey as the would-be central character (if the Narrator hadn't gotten in the way) does what he can with a thankless script which has him ogling a now-straight Narrator, telling the poor lad he knows his "size" (clothing size, but you get the idea) just by looking at him.

And John Cusack, badly photographed (batting his dark lashes more often than Garbo in Camille) and badly directed (keeps opening his mouth to show how astonished he is by all this eccentricity and homo-sexuality) cannot save his part.

Actress Irma P. Hall has moments as "minerva" (no last name) an aged Afrrican-American lady hired by Jim Williams to work voodoo for him, she going to the cemetary and talking to the grave of Billy Hanson (this graveyard being the "Garden" of the title).

But the film's a mess, in spite of a soundtrack that's got lots of nice Johnny Mercer tunes (the reason for these tunes is that the house Jim Williams lives in is called the Mercer house and we're to understand that Johnny Mercer once lived in it.)

I have a feeling that macho Clint Eastwood, trying to soft-pedal a gay-center text, gave scriptwriter John Lee Hancock "instructions" resulting in this soggy film.

1998 BEI; All Rights Reserved.
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