sesquipedaliatic: Neail Gaiman requests tea (Tea please!)
[personal profile] sesquipedaliatic
Watched two movies this past weekend, paired specifically because they both focus on a gay main character but are definitely not Issue Stories. I've had both I Love You Phillip Morris and Christopher and His Kind on my To Watch list for a while, and decided a double feature was in order. [personal profile] charloween helpfully pointed out that they're structurally similar and both based on true stories.

This is by no means a review; it's more a somewhat un-garbled collection of my thoughts.

Aaaaaaand posting now as our power has been flickering ominously. Hey there snow in October, how are you? (If you don't hear from me for a few days, I've probably turned into a slush monster.)

I Love You Phillip Morris: silly, abrasive, and frustrating

I wanted it to be so much more that it is. But first, a disclaimer: I went into it with a VERY STRONG dislike of Jim Carrey (brilliant physical comedian, don't buy any emotion that he attempts to convey) and was disappointed to see the same performance choices I dislike repeated here. I'm probably overly biased against ILYPM for that reason.

The increasingly ridiculous cons are amusing, and the brief glimpse we get of Steven's childhood is interesting. But each scene felt like it was included to serve a single, specific purpose. Cloud watching introduced gayness. Rejected by birth mother establishes a fear of rejection. Jimmy's AIDS death introduces a new means of conning for Steven. Once a scene has served its purpose, it is tossed aside and never referred to again.

I recognize that ILYPM is an overly wacky story (especially since it's loosely based on truth), and I wanted something to ground all the palm trees and oiled chests and excessively small dogs. I hoped the relationship between Steven and Phillip would be that ground, but nope. Watching Ewan McGregor is always fun, but even he was overly insipid. A gentleman I know was once reviewed as "a droll milquetoast" and that pretty well described Phillip. Props for the smooooooth accent, though!

Sex (both gay and straight): violent, in-your-face ("Dude, I'm gonna come in your ass!"), self-congratulatory, only enjoyable for one partner (both the wife and the unnamed, mustachioed man we first see with Steven look bored and slightly pained). Also useful for getting things in prison.

Gayness: soft-spoken pretty boys; shirtless, manicured men; partners who die of AIDS. Glad to see we've avoided the cliches there.

Redeeming factor: Debbie, Steven's wife! Despite her Commitment to Jesus, she doesn't abuse Steven for leaving her/being a con/begin gay. She may not really know what to do with him, but she's NEVER nasty. Her "oh, you're on the run again" phone conversation with Steven towards the end of the movie left warm fuzzies in my stomach. Props to the actress, writers, and director for playing Debbie that way.

Christopher and His Kind: pretty, subtle, and unexpectedly uplifting

Let's get this out of the way first: there are LOTS of pretty things in this movie. Shirtless, sexualized men; beautiful women in beaded dresses singing in smoky parlors; idyllic countrysides. Lots of pretty, and I loved looking at ALL OF IT.

Sex: boundless passion! Even the angry "I hate you for not pretending you're not a prostitute" fight that turns into sex is frantic and driven by something other than "hey audience, does this make you uncomfortable?" Sex scenes usually just make me squirmy (a product of being in the industry; I'm more interested in what's going through the actors' heads than the characters'), but emphasizing the passion and sensuality rather than the sex itself, as CaHK did, makes for beautiful, enjoyable, pleasing sex scenes. (There's no way to say that without sounding skeevy, is there?)

I had a literal facepalm moment after the second or third comment about Wyston writing poetry. My brain finally caught up and figured out he is W.H. Auden.

Can we talk about Richard Isherwood? Christopher's younger brother? I did a cursory bit of research and found exactly nothing about him. Perry Millward's portrayal was nuanced and fascinating and MORE MORE MORE I WANT MORE OF HIM. The eye twitch and the expression of faint puzzlement and the understanding more than he lets on and SO MUCH going on for a character who had all of two scenes and three lines (ish. I didn't count). OH! While double checking actor names, I just noticed that Iddo Goldberg (who played Wilfrid Landauer, the Jewish German gentleman who Christopher tutors) also played Ben in Secret Diary of a Call Girl. No wonder he looked familiar!

Decadence: Isherwood writes lots about the decadence of Berlin in the early 30s in The Berlin Diaries and subsequently that richness without wealth is a key feature of Cabaret. CaHK EXCELLED at presenting that decadence, from Jean's multicolored (but always chipped and uneven) nail polish to Christopher's brief monologue in the Cozy Corner about the wonderfulness of boys.

Subtlety: YES PLEASE. In not beating the audience over the head with The Point, CaHK was a refreshing change from ILYPM. For example, the presentation of Wyston's crush on Christopher was sweet and lovely, as was the parallel between Wyston resting his head against Christopher's chest and Caspar (I think?) doing the same thing a few scenes later. I loved seeing so much of Cabaret in what Christopher sees and experiences. (I keep thinking myself in circles; what I'm watching Christopher experience is what he will record and turn into The Berlin Diaries which will in turn become Cabaret. But much of what happened on screen in CaHK could have been transplanted into a good production of Cabaret. Bah. Words are failing me!)

And speaking of subtlety, the book-burning scene was one of my favorite bits of the movie. It addresses so gracefully the balance between not wanting to get involved and hatred/fear/disgust at the current government. That scene told us everything we needed to know about the status of Germany at the time, Christopher's feelings about standing up against the Nazis, and the danger that he has finally understood. Arg. It's much easier to convey my feelings by flapping my hands about than by stringing words together.

I found myself surprised at how not depressing CaHK is. [personal profile] charloween said something about how CaHK is really quite uplifting but I kept thinking "movie about being gay in 1930s Berlin. Uplifting. Riiiiiiight." I was very pleased to be proven wrong. Particularly the final few scenes, Christopher reconnecting with Heinz, then going his own way to continue writing and to meet the man who becomes the love of his life. Also pleasing (in a depressing way) to end a drama about a gay man with a successful long term relationship.

Time to stop writing things and make sure my electrical devices are charged. I don't expect the power to go out for more than a minute or two, but the ice covered leaves are apparently felling branches and trees all around and I'd rather have a full and charged Nook.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-30 08:39 am (UTC)
charloween: (Default)
From: [personal profile] charloween
Without rewatching both films, it seemed the difference between them was: where ILYPM is about a crazy gay con man doing crazy cons for more gay lovin' (often with strange facial expressions), CaHK is about a young gay man totally on the prowl in a foreign country who is forced to find and define his moral and political position, thereby - *gasp* - growing as a person. Plus he doesn't have to contort his face or use a funny voice (posh accent notwithstanding)!

One thing I liked about CaHK is how Isherwood seems to enjoy a deviant, decadent life on the margins* - as a gay expat rejecting his privileged upbringing by faffing about in a boarding house writing novels - but that he figures out that being marginal isn't the same as being separate. *waves hand* Something something observer/participant, stories about writers etc.

*Once they cast Matt Smith, d'ya think they rewrote that first scene with his mother so he wouldn't have to whine about not wanting to be a doctor?

A few months ago you were going to float away, now you're going to freeze in place. (English "weather" barely deserves the name.)

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