All Over the Guy

           In 2001, there was a minor brouhaha over an exchange on PBS' "Charlie Rose" between
   the curmudgeonly critic John Simon and Ben Brantley of
The New York Times regarding gay-themed
   theater. Mr. Simon in his inimitable fashion posited that there was such a thing as a "homosexual play,"
   meaning one that was imbued with a "gay" sensibility that was not necessarily comprehensible by the
   public at large. The outcry over these remarks was led by several openly gay playwrights (e.g., Edward
   Albee, Terrence McNally) who took Mr. Simon to task for what were perceived as bigoted and rather
   ill-informed remarks.

           It seems to me that queer cinema also faces a similar prospect, but one that is fraught with even
   more peril for the artist. Heterosexual critics --no matter how enlightened -- do not always seem to
   comprehend a homosexual filmmaker's sensibilities. On the other hand, some critics (and audience
   members) in the gay community hold those same directors (and writers and actors) to such impossibly
   high standards that no one could achieve anything close to that standard of perfection. Given these two
   polar extremes -- in effect, the old cliche of "damned if you do, damned if you don't" -- it is a wonder
   that there are any queer films to review.

           One entry that braved such critical brickbats is
All Over the Guy, a rather innocuous romantic
   comedy about two couples adapted by screenwriter-star Dan Bucatinsky from his play
I Know You
   Are, What Am I?
. Whereas on stage, Bucatinsky depicted a male-female relationship, for the screen,
   he decided to make the central couple into two men. In my humble estimation, what several of my
   colleagues have missed is the almost groundbreaking manner in which this relationship is presented.
   There are no recriminations, and no one is struggling with the issue of "coming out." In fact, being gay
   is treated as nothing out of the ordinary. Thirty-plus years after the 1969 Stonewall riots, as gays and
   lesbians make strides in society, this is something to cheer about. Don't misunderstand; I have reservations
   about the film and I certainly am not proclaiming that it is a masterpiece. I am merely trying to point out
   that for gays and lesbians, this is something of a watershed. A more or less mainstream film that presents
   a gay love story as something other than a fable. Yes, there have been other films like
Big Eden that
   also attempted a similar feat, but that film unfolded in a utopian world that clearly does not exist. While
   there are some minor leaps required with
All Over the Guy, it is grounded in reality. Neither of the
   two male leads -- Eli (played winningly by Bucatinsky) nor Tom (a brooding turn by Richard Ruccolo)
   are presented as perfect. These are fully-rounded human beings with faults and foibles who happen
   to fall in love, although neither is completely emotionally equipped for the experience.

           Bucatinsky's screenplay takes pains to show just how these guys got to where they are in life
   through amusing flashbacks. Tom's parents (Nicholas Surovy and Joanna Kearns) are country club
   WASPs who deal with problems by deflection and alcohol consumption. In a handful of scenes,
   Tom's commitment issues, his own alcoholism, and his inability to fully communicate his feelings come
   into sharp focus. Eli, too, has his own set of issues brought on by his touchy-feely therapist parents
   (Tom Abatemarco and the always wonderful Andrea Martin). Their openness and desire to share
   everything is as stifling and stunting, albeit more amusing.

           As in a Shakespearean comedy, there is a second couple whose own courtship runs parallel to
   (and makes a commentary on) the central set of lovers. Here that pair happens to be a "straight" couple,
   the respective best friends of Eli and Tom. As played by Adam Goldberg and Sasha Alexander,
   respectively, Brett and Jackie are necessary figures but less interesting. Their romance is more in
   keeping with the outline of a typical Hollywood romantic comedy: meet cute, overcome obstacles,
   get married. Both actors deliver fine turns given the limitations of their roles.

           There are also a couple of other nice cameo turns from established stars. Lisa Kudrow once
   again proves her versatility by essaying a ditsy voice actor (there doesn't seem to be another actress
   around who can "play dumb" so intelligently). Christina Ricci turns up as Eli's sister, who is willing
   to lend support -- to a point. And Doris Roberts makes the most out of her foul-mouthed receptionist
   in a couple of brief scenes.

           One might argue that Bucatinsky kept the best role for himself, but that would be a) overlooking
   the fact that he is an attractive man with a charming screen presence, and b) dismissing his acting prowess.
   On the other hand, Ruccolo actually has the more difficult part in Tom. The actor, previously known for
   his work on the TV sitcom
"Two Guys and a Girl," offers a layered performance that grows as the
   film unfolds. It is a particularly remarkable achievement, one that hopefully will assist the actor in
   breaking out of the mold of being typecast.

           Director Julie Davis does falter occasionally, but overall, she manages to keep things moving briskly.
All Over the Guy is a comedy, it ends on a note of possibility, but it can be construed that the
   upbeat moment is transitory. Although the promise of "happily ever after" exists, it is not a given. In that
   way, the film is more like the mess of real life than the pristine picture perfect world of reel life.

                                   Rating:                         B-
                                   MPAA Rating:             R for strong sexual content and language
                                   Running time:                95 mins.

                                                         Viewed at the Quad Cinema
© 2005-2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.