There was a time when being gay in the movies was a virtual death sentence. By the film’s climax, it was clear who was going to end up dead.
Think of “Suddenly Last Summer,” when Elizabeth Taylor’s cousin Sebastian (played by writer Gore Vidal) gets eaten, literally, by a bunch of beggar boys. Think of “The Fox,” when Anne Heywood’s lover, Sandy Dennis, gets crunched by a tree felled by Keir Dullea.
Think of William Hurt in “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (the film that won him an Oscar). Think of Simon Callow in “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Think of the gentle man who befriends Al Pacino in “Cruising” (or, actually, of almost any overtly gay character in that despicable film).
In a completely different context, think of Tim Curry in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Well, times have changed. Somewhat.
Oh, gay and lesbian characters are still being marginalized. And they’re still being killed off (AIDS is the current weapon of choice - think “Longtime Companion,” “Philadelphia” or, even more recently, “In the Gloaming”).
But today it’s just as likely for someone gay or lesbian to end up happy. Or at least alive.
Consider one of the major movies to be released this week on video. In “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (see capsule review below), Julia Roberts has the good fortune to have Rupert Everett as a best friend.
As George, Everett is everything a straight woman afraid of commitment could want. He’s tall, dashing, devastatingly good-looking; he looks good on a dance floor, and he doesn’t whine about having to sleep alone. (Check that. At least he doesn’t whine about NOT getting to sleep with our female protagonist.)
In the past, George’s character would have been played by someone much more sexually neutral. Someone such as Tony Randall. Or Clifton Webb. Or maybe even Eve Arden.
Independent film traditionally has been the home of directors and writers seeking to explore the gay life with a sense of authenticity: “Go Fish,” “Beautiful Thing,” “Jeffrey,” “Priest,” “Love! Valour! Compassion!” etc.
It’s been only in recent years that gays and lesbians have emerged from the art houses to show up, out of the closet without apology, in mainstream cinema.
Aside from the drag-queen films - which are a whole genre unto themselves, including everything from “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” to “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar” - those films have run the gamut of styles.
But comedy remains the usual fare.
“Threesome” features a three-way affair between college roommates Josh Charles, Lara Flynn Boyle and Stephen Baldwin.
“The Birdcage,” which stars Nathan Lane and Robin Williams, is an adaptation of the French film “La Cage aux Folles.”
“In & Out,” written by the clever gay screenwriter Paul Rudnick, took its idea from the comments made by Tom Hanks when he accepted his first Oscar for playing an AIDS-stricken lawyer in “Philadelphia.” Kevin Kline is the one coming to grips with his sexual orientation, but it is studly Tom Selleck who helps him see what’s what.
And now “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”
It may not please everyone. It may not win awards. But it DOES end with dancing, not with death.
Amen to that, brother.
My Best Friend’s Wedding
When marriage-shy Julia Roberts discovers that her first love/best friend (Dermot Mulroney) is getting married, she simmers in a fit of jealousy and sets out to break things up. But she discovers that his affections for fiancee Cameron Diaz are deeper than she’d imagined. This entertaining romantic comedy marks a comeback of sorts for Roberts, who hasn’t been this fresh and funny since “Pretty Woman.” But director P.J. Hogan (“Muriel’s Wedding”) does his part by keeping the action moving, utilizing music well and getting the most from his supporting cast, especially Diaz and Rupert Everett (look for an Oscar nomination for Everett). Best of all, screenwriter Ronald Bass finds a way to have a believable ending that also is emotionally fulfilling - no small feat in this era of feel-good cinema. Rated PG-13
When a gang of hardened criminals decides to hijack a plane to make an escape, a war hero-turned-convict (Nicolas Cage) is called upon to save the day. The direction of Simon West, typical of a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced film (directed by Simon West), opts for the big bang so often that even the little moments, rare as they are, seem as subtle as Mount Rushmore. Among a cast of delicious bad guys, played by the likes of John Malkovich, Ving Rhames and even Steve Buscemi, Cage stands out. He provides the ironic voice that such self-important projects - see early Schwarzenegger and most any Stallone - typically go begging for. Rated R
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEW TO VIEW Now available: “Con Air” (Buena Vista), “Box of Moonlight” (Trimark), “The Land Before Time: The Mysterious Island” (Universal), “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (Columbia TriStar), “Ultimate Fighting Championship 12” (Trimark). Available Tuesday: “Contact” (Warner), “How to Be a Player” (Polygram), “A Simple Wish” (Universal), “Trojan War” (Warner), “Strangers in the House” (LIVE), “Cosi” (Miramax).