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Sundance: Rupert Everett on “The Happy Prince,” and How Oscar Wilde Is His Christ Figure

One of the most pleasant surprises of this year’s Sundance has been the chance to see Rupert Everett onscreen again in a major role. Of course, in order to get the part, he had to write and direct the film as well. In The Happy Prince, Everett uses the last days of Oscar Wilde as a way to explore the tragic, iconic gay playwright-poet-novelist’s life  intercutting between glimpses of his glory days as well as his several falls from grace. The result is a lush, dense dream narrative, anchored by a lead performance from Everett that is alternately vain, tender, boisterous, and melancholy. I had the chance to sit down with him at the festival and discuss how he came to write and direct this movie  about a decade in the making  and the importance of Oscar Wilde in his own life.

How do you think Oscar Wilde would have fared in a place like Sundance?

It’s hard to say, really. There is, on the way [to Park City] from the airport, a place called Ironville, and Wilde went to a town called Leadville. He’d been lampooned in an opera by Gilbert and Sullivan as a kind of fob, and instead of reacting badly, he went and promoted the opera around America. It was a brilliant PR move  to confront your negative press full-on. He became a huge star in America in about 1875, I think it was. And he traveled around America in a train with a special carriage with green leathered seats, and he ended up in a town called Leadville, where he was taken down a mine in a bucket where the miners had organized a dinner party, and he spoke to them on the need for beauty.

Is this the most personal part you’ve ever played?

Oscar Wilde is definitely my patron saint, if not my Christ figure. The notion of Christ is such a fascinating one which we never really look into  the idea of being half-god and half-man, which the Christ consciousness is, and which we all are, and which Oscar Wilde is a perfect example of, because he’s kind of a buffoon in some ways, an idiot and a genius. He’s headstrong and vain and he’s incredibly compassionate. He’s a lot of polar opposites, and he makes terrible mistakes and fails abysmally. So, he is a kind of saint figure to me, if I think of all the mistakes that I’ve made. And also having to live so much as a kind of publicly seen gay figure. Not that I’m in any sense a similar type of genius as he is, but definitely he is my saint.

In some senses, his story feels like one of the beginnings of the LGBTQ movement.

The relevance of the film is that the LGBTQ movement really did start with him. “Homosexuality” simply wasn’t a word, really, before Wilde, and certainly wasn’t a thing that was discussed openly. And he realized that. He said at one point before he died, “The road to freedom will be long and smeared with the blood of martyrs.” So, for the LGBTQ community, I think this is like seeing a nativity play. And I think very valuable for us all now, because we live in a culture where we’re constantly battling for everything to get better, which is right and correct, but at the same time sometimes it blinds us to how far we’ve actually come already. And this is 110 years or so; it’s a minuscule millisecond in human history, and we should sit and think of Wilde and where we are and feel absolutely thrilled and full-hearted going forward 

While you were just talking, Mike Pence was on the TV behind you.

Right, yes! [Laughs]

So, there’s still some road left to go.

Of course there is, but at the same time, how do we attack that road? I think, bearing Oscar in mind, one attacks it with a pride and a full-heartedness rather than an anger and a fury. We’ve done incredibly well already, and things have moved so much for us in the first world. You know, last week I was in Jamaica, where I’m involved with a safe house for gay people in Montego Bay. I was listening to the stories of gays and transgender people in Jamaica  where once your family discovers that you’re gay, they try and get a hit man to kill you, and the whole village turns their back on you and throws stones at you like a dog until you have to leave home and just go on the street. There are gays in Russia who don’t know what AIDS is still. They’re completely out on their own. I think this film is a great kind of battle cry, in a way, but in a full-hearted and positive sense.

You’ve been working on this film for some time.

Well, I originally wrote the screenplay in 2007, 2008. And since then it’s been on quite a journey. It started off terribly well, then kind of went downhill. When I first wrote it, my initial producer, Robert Fox, sent it to Scott Rudin, who’s a fantastic producer, and he loved the script. And the day I heard that I just thought, “God, show business is the easiest thing. It’s all just happens like that.” And I was walking on air. And then straight away afterwards [Rudin] came back saying that he liked the script but he wanted Philip Seymour Hoffman to play Oscar Wilde.

Had you always intended to play the part?

I’d only written it so that I could play the part. I didn’t really want to direct it, to be honest. I just wanted to keep going as an actor and find a fantastic vehicle for myself that I thought would fit in to how people perceive me. So, when he told me he wanted Philip Seymour Hoffman to play the role, I was a little bit knocked sideways. Actually, in one sense, I think I made a mistake because I should have let them do it; I would have been able to establish myself as a writer at a very good level, because Scott Rudin is a marvelous producer. Philip Seymour Hoffman would have been magnificent, actually.

I think you’re magnificent in this part. I’m also taken with your writing and direction of the film. Especially with the dream-narrative structure, which seems like a bold choice for a first-time writer-director.

My initial idea was to have Oscar Wilde on his deathbed, because obviously that hotel room to me is a kind of iconic room. For me, it’s one of the great nineteenth-century romances, you know, Oscar Wilde’s cheap hotel room smelling of drains, this great literary genius who once held the whole Café Royal in thrall is dying next to an overflowing latrine in a cheap hotel. And I’d originally thought about this deathbed room being a kind of expanding and shrinking room as he died. My dad had just died, and I’d been around my dad quite a lot dying, and it’s a riveting experience to see close-up a brain slowly turning off and crashing and bits falling off. Distance starts changing, you start seeing things that happened years ago. So, I wanted to try and make this idea about a room that shrank and expanded as he died  as the brain sorts out for the last time its memories. That was my initial thrust, and then it went on from there. I always loved the films of Sergio Leone  those amazing flashbacks in Once Upon a Time in America.

Funny that you mention Leone. The film felt quite Italian to me. I was also reminded structurally of The Conformist, and several other Italian films from the 1960s and 1970s.

As a kid, my best friend was the goddaughter of Franco Zeffirelli. So, my first real experience of cinema and making films was going on this mad, exotic queen’s film sets where churches would be hung with bits of glitter. I mean, you know, that old Italian school, with its [directors of photography] like Pasqualino De Santis, and costume designers Piero Tosi and Danilo Donati. The design of those films of Seventies and Eighties Italian cinema. And I think people aren’t really interested in that kind of design aesthetic anymore, I suppose. For me, it comes from the same thing that I suppose Visconti thought about: It’s really making the rooms and the places exact. And I think they are fairly exact, my environments for Oscar Wilde.

You wrote the script even before you appeared in The Judas Kiss, in which you played Wilde onstage?

I appeared in The Judas Kiss because the film just kept stalling. After this Scott Rudin debacle, he said, “OK, I will make the film with you, but give me a list of six directors.” And I did, fabulous ones.

Who was on the list?

Well, the one I really wanted was Alan Parker, because I adore his Irish films, and I love Mississippi Burning. And I love that aesthetic, too, the English aesthetic of those advertisers who turned to moviemaking. Again, part of my upbringing. I was brought up on seeing those films. Anyway, it took me about two years to get a “no” from all of them. We were then into year three, and I thought, “Fuck.” The thing about a screenplay is it simply doesn’t exist if it isn’t made. There’s no point in trying to publish a screenplay or something like that, so I thought, “I’m just not letting it go.” I decided to direct it myself — to a resounding lack of enthusiasm globally. [Laughs] Added to which, whatever stardom I had at that point was really on the wane, you know, flickering into obscurity. I went round everywhere, and everyone said no. People kept saying, “Why you as Wilde? I don’t understand how you’re going to do it.” And I’d remembered David Hare’s play The Judas Kiss. And we had a great success with it. Everything I thought I could do as an actor, I somehow managed. So, that was a real turning point.

You’ve talked about these contrasts in Oscar’s life. There’s also his yearning for domesticity, intercut with his sexual abandon in France.

Wilde definitely became a sexual animal in France. And Wilde and sex is a difficult thing to [approach]. If you believe what everyone says, he never had sex with a guy until Robbie Ross in 1885 or ’86. So all through university, Trinity College, Dublin, Oxford, no gay sex. And I think it’s possible; he was so hell-bent on becoming English. And yet, it’s so difficult for us to imagine because we live in a post-liberation world where being gay is a thing. Back then, it wasn’t a thing even. But definitely, by the time he got to Paris, he was a celebrity on the skids, a sex animal. I think he was fascinated by the vagrant world that became available to him.

You also depict what seems to be a very earnest desire on his part to be a Catholic.

Well, he had this flirtation with Catholicism all the way through. He was always going to Brompton Oratory, which is one of our big, grand churches in London. He loved the idea of Catholicism. And Robbie Ross was a Catholic. And Wilde must have also had a Christ complex of his own because his social suicide was quite possibly very measured and thought-out. He probably saw that the only way for his work to really survive would be if he did go to prison, because he had the opportunity obviously when he was in the Cadogan Hotel to run. But if he ran, he would be committed to obscurity. Because actually there were a lot of playwrights who wrote very good melodramatic potboilers in the theater, and it’s quite possible he’d have been lost if he hadn’t also become this Christ figure. Because he died and rose again, in a way, like Christ.

Oscar Wilde is one of the most quotable figures of all time. When you write that character and you have to put words in his mouth, I imagine that’s not easy. But you’ve got some good lines in there — like, “shrouded in the symphony of adjacent copulation.”

Oh, I wrote that, yeah. [Laughs] That was a good one, actually.

It must have been a challenge. “Oh, I’m going to write new Oscar Wilde–isms.”

Well, that’s the joy and glory of writing when it goes well. Because I remember writing that line and having this idea of them being in a knocking shop with this kind of Sensurround sex going on. The words just kind of came out, and when stuff like that comes out, it’s amazing. But that’s another area where I was very lucky because I had so much Wilde experience as an actor. Even if I didn’t know how to come up with something as glittering, I knew the cadence and the length of the sentences and how they felt to speak. And I think being the actor writing the lines was very lucky for me, because I always had an ear to imagining myself saying them.

Are you an easy actor to direct?

Well, it’s a very weird position because everyone’s around you, and you’re the director and you’re the actor, so you’re the center of energy. I was so keen to make the days because we had a really tough schedule, and any scene we lost on any day meant the scene was really basically lost. We didn’t have any room for doing an extra day or anything, so sometimes I would just be hurrying through the scenes to get them finished — I’d get up from chairs too fast, or move across rooms in a way that just wasn’t like Oscar would. There’s a scene where I climbed a hill to the church, and I was like Usain Bolt trying to get up it because I was so keen to get on to the next setup. So, sometimes my acting is inaccurate. Luckily everyone else’s was incredibly accurate all the way through. My philosophy always as an actor has been that directors who try and micromanage you are not necessarily the best directors. I think the best ones are ones who watch what you’re doing and try and capture it, and that’s how I thought with my actors. They were all so instinctively right.

Who’s the best director you’ve worked with?

Well, I loved working with P.J. Hogan [on My Best Friend’s Wedding and Unconditional Love]. But he was a micromanager as well. And he would make me do twenty takes of something, which was completely, in my opinion, unnecessary. And then he always chose the wrong one, for me. If you go to a screening with another actor, you always end up having the same conversation: “Can you believe the stuff they used? I mean, what about that stuff we did there?” And I must say, looking at the performances, I felt, as an actor-director, I understood what every actor was trying to do, even sometimes when it wasn’t quite achieved. Because you can see in other actors’ faces what beats they’re trying to make, what little kind of lulls and musical changes. Because we move so fast now, and there’s not time to do that old-fashioned thing of twenty-five takes; there’s time to do two. And so, I did like working with P.J. Hogan. I loved working with Roger Michell. I loved working with Paul Schrader. I loved working with a guy called Marek Kanievska who made Another Country, my first film. And then I did a film called Dellamorte Dellamore, an Italian film. [Director Michele Soavi] is a fantastically original thinker. He transformed that cartoon so brilliantly onto the screen. And the character was based on me to start with! That cartoon, which is called Dylan Dog, was a big Italian strip cartoon, and the guy who did it based it on me. So, it was a great thing for me to do. But [Soavi] was brilliant as the director, because that was not an expensive film, but the way all his special effects were kind of artisanal was stunning.

Who’s the worst director you’ve worked with?

Well, the director I got on worst with was the second director I ever worked with, Mike Newell. We fought and fought and fought. The film was great actually, Dance With a Stranger, but it was a defining film for me in that afterwards I really didn’t get any work because my relationship with him had gone so bad and so wrong.

 It is a great film, and Miranda Richardson is quite amazing in it.

She’s amazing, as is the look of that film. There’s hardly any films of that period that look so absolutely wonderful. No, he did an amazing job of it, I must say.

Do you want to direct more?

I would like to. In this day and age, I think one has to constantly reset one’s clock at zero, and I won’t be going into next week thinking I now have the right to be a director. Because I’m nearly approaching sixty. If it took me another ten years to make a film, I’d be seventysomething. [Laughs] But I think I’ve got something to say and lots of ideas that I would like to do. On the one hand, because the world is moving so fast, in five or six years I won’t understand how to use anything. Because if we’re at the very beginning still of this huge technological movement, I already can’t even do catch-up on my TV very well. And emotionally, morally, everything’s changing. The whole structure of humanity seems like it will be changing in the next five to ten years.

But that’s also why I think being an older person directing will be good. It’s a good thing to bring shades of the past, in terms of emotional makeup and moralistic makeup. And I think one of the things in the modern world where it’s not working for me is that history is now fifteen minutes ago. For example, as young aspiring actors, we knew the whole of the history of cinema from seeing it on television. We knew films of the Twenties in the Seventies and Eighties. We were intimately familiar with the 1930s, the 1940s, the 1950s — of course we were in love with the Fifties. That’s all gone. Now, one trip around the goldfish bowl. Things are moving so fast.

The Oscar Wilde story is also, in some senses, the beginnings of celebrity culture.

Absolutely. He was the second celebrity. Byron first, and then Wilde. Famous for being famous, as much as anything else.

And this notion that the people who applaud you will, in the very next moment, absolutely drive you into the ground.

Well, certainly in our world, you know, everything turns on a dime. One moment everyone’s listening to your ideas, gaping with excitement, and the next they’re looking over your shoulder to get away. So, yeah, I think that’s the nature of our world. And it also moves so fast now. That’s the other thing, you know. In a couple of days, you could be finished.

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“Acting’s not chic anymore,” RUPERT EVERETT deadpanned to me at Da Silvano, insisting he feels no burning need to rev his movie career up a notch. Besides, he’s got a witty memoir out (Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins), he’s part of the Shrek franchise and the upcoming DENIRO flick Stardust, and he’s busy with a whole other challenging pursuit. “I try to get laid,” he told me, grinning—and sometimes he has to travel to faraway places like Germany, France, and India in order to do so.

“We’re so image-bound in America and England,” Everett explained, “and the gay scene is so middle-class and upwardly mobile. Unless you’re prepared to flash everything you’ve got—your credit card, your body, your haircut—you’re not gonna get laid.” “But you’re Rupert Everett!” I shrieked, nonplussed. “You’re only something on the gay scene if you had a number one hit last week,” he replied, knowingly. God, the gays are so cold.

Well, the book deserves to be number one with a gay bullet. Everett’s scribblings are a marvel of wordplay and observation, especially about the inner workings of sick, gorgeous Hollywood (complete with a description of his being dropped from the lead in About a Boy because he’s you-know-what). “On a set, everyone’s a country and you make your alliances,” he related, fixing me with his piercing eyes. “It helps you understand why the world’s at war. The smear campaigns you wage against that hopeless assistant director!”

Yet he’s come away with appreciative (if unblinking) appraisals of his co-stars—particularly self-possessed enigmas like MADONNA, SHARON STONE, and FAYE DUNAWAY. Everett assured me that in 50 years, people researching those stars “are not going to find anything. There’s no character in any of these people. Obviously they have characters—amazing characters. They’re the most extraordinary beings of all. They’ve conquered a man’s world and have become men in women’s clothing.” “And we’ve done the opposite,” I cracked. Yes, he agreed, “we’ve become total fags—and that includes the straights. Imagine years ago a male star talking seriously about what he was wearing. ‘This is by my friend, JEAN-PAUL GAULTIER.’ It’s so faggy it’s unbelievable!”

Weighted pause. A casual sip of wine, then Everett assured me he doesn’t like guys with “cherry-flavored pompadours and cinnamon lips. I like to smell sweat.” Perhaps he should have been a lesbian. Which brought us back to the universal quest for getting laid and how to whore that talent out. “Nowadays,” he concluded, “to take your career seriously, you try and use anything you’ve got and sell it. You’re losing your hair? Make it a reality show. If you’re a sex addict, sell it!” If you’re both, you’re
MICHAEL DOUGLAS.


Doing it with a Condon
My second gay legend of the week, BILL CONDON, directed the year’s gayest, blackest, everythingest movie, Dreamgirls
—that rapturous Motown melodrama based on the ’81 stage hit—and in between fending off cherry-flavored bouquets for it, he managed to field some questions from a die-hard show queen named me. Our exchange went like so:

Q: The movie is so fun, Bill, that it’s getting repeat customers. I mean, no one goes to see Babel four times. A: I can’t wait to do the sing-along. I remember when we were shooting the song “It’s All Over,” [lighting guy] JULES FISHER turned to me and said, “Every weekend in Fire Island next summer, this scene will be duplicated.” Q: They’re already doing it in Hell’s Kitchen. Is it true that you didn’t think BEYONCÉ could do Deena? A: I was invited to a tech rehearsal for the Destiny’s Child farewell tour, which turned out to be the most elaborate audition I’ve ever seen. Seeing her up close, she’s so powerful, especially sexually, and that’s so not Deena. Deena’s sexy, but it’s got to be withheld—mysterious and kittenish. Q: But Ms. Knowles ultimately delivered, right? A: Yes!

Q: Is it true that the talented Broadway star CAPATHIA JENKINS was the runner-up for Effie, as she’s been telling people? A: She was a runner-up. Q: OK, got it. But why isn’t the gal who got the part, JENNIFER HUDSON, allowed to sing “And I Am Telling You” in public yet? A: We feel it’s something you should experience in the movie. We’re trying to go back to a certain kind of retro showmanship, which we did with souvenir programs and reserved seats. We wanted to hold back on something. But in February we’ll be shooting a video for the song. Q: Will she be Effie or Jennifer in the video? A: Jennifer. A diva is born. Q: Will Jennifer be pressured to lose weight in a horrid echo of her character’s plight? A: I don’t think so. I hope she gets that the whole point of this is, she is a star and people will start to shape things around her the way they have when other people came along who didn’t become size two.

Q: I was reassured when I saw her on The View celebrating being “thick.” But what’s the skinny on Effie’s ultra-cute brother, C.C.? Is he gay? A: I know! [Pause.] But didn’t you see those nice looks he shares with Michelle [Effie’s replacement]? He’s a sensitive artist. Q: Actually, he shares looks with Effie, which are even weirder. Moving on, did Deena write her vituperative studio song, “Listen”? Why would Curtis [JAMIE FOXX] have let her? A: I feel that Curtis ironically had it written for her, not realizing. In the original first draft, that was gonna be her big number from an r&b version of Cleopatra.

Q: Called Cle-ho-patra? Speaking of which: Why are there no sex scenes except for Jimmy and Lorell’s? A: I did have a bedroom scene with Curtis and Effie in the middle of “Love You, I Do.” I took it out because it made him such a shit so early and made Effie seem a little out of it. It felt too cold to cut immediately to him staring at Deena. Q: You really thought this stuff through, didn’t you? But while you cast Broadway’s LORETTA DEVINE as a singer mourning Jimmy’s death, the original Effie—the always hurt Jennifer Holliday—feels she deserved a part too. Justified? A: You want to be as respectful as possible because Jennifer’s so amazing, but Loretta is someone you’d cast in that part anyway, and it had special resonance because she’d been in love with Jimmy all those years in the original production. [Composer] HENRY KRIEGER said she was the heart of the production. The idea that everyone in it should have a part, I don’t understand. Q: This is off-topic, but isn’t SCORSESE having a triumphant year? A: Yes, he’s the great living American director. Q: You’re humble too! That does it. I’m off to see Dreamgirls for a fifth time.


Old Busch, new bush

And the gays kept coming, with cinnamon lips and projects in manicured hand. At the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, the divine CHARLES BUSCH told me his latest movie, A Very Serious Person, will air on Showtime; his new play, Our Leading Lady, has the ever hunky MAXWELL CAULFIELD uncharacteristically keeping his clothes on (“He’s amenable, but dignity always comes first with me!” cracked Busch); and what’s more, Busch is working with JOAN RIVERS on “a one-woman show with other people in it.” And suddenly acting will be chic again.

Over at Chelsea’s cupcake capital, Billy’s Bakery, Billy is doing a whole other one-woman show. I hear he’s flawlessly transitioned and is now Lauren, though the place’s name—and recipes—are completely intact. Brava!

Coffee and cuties both go down easy over at JOE BIRDSONG and HATTIE HATHAWAY‘s Rapture Café & Books, the East Village hangout where you can find esoteric titles, high literature (Latin Inches), computers, and occasional drop-in performers like WHORE’S MASCARA, the disco duo who entertainingly spoof the popular quest for vapid pretty boys.

A screamgirl with a mascara wand, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, approached Sirius host MICHELANGELO SIGNORILE in BILL O’REILLY‘s greenroom after the latter appeared in a segment about gay marriage. “Good job,” said Laura, extending her talons. But Signorile is not only pro–gay marriage—obviously—he’s one of the main people who successfully campaigned to get the bitch thrown off the air! Is she softening—or just as daft as ever?

And now I’m off to Germany, France, and India. For the culture.

musto@villagevoice.com

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RUPERT EVERETT‘s new memoir Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins
filled me with a burning rage. Reading it, I realized the British actor doubles as a sparkling social arbiter and ultra-literate gossip reporter, and as such he’s clearly more astute an observer than even yours fucking truly! I absolutely hate him! (Though I’m a better actor, of course.)

Coming off smarter than everyone else who’s ever set foot in Hollywood combined, Everett turns in spot-on portraits of radioactive stars like MADONNA, SHARON STONE, Done Fadeaway (a/k/a FAYE DUNAWAY), and even DANNY AIELLO, who gets a rollicking trashing he’d be advised not to read if he wants a nice ’07.

As for the rest of the book, let me distill it down to its most prominent gossip points, seeing as how lesser scribes like to do that sort of thing. The interpersonal highlights include: Madonna making Everett snog her smoldering then-boyfrend TONY WARD (she didn’t have to insist very hard); JULIA ROBERTS and newcomer CAMERON DIAZ experiencing a smidgen of tension on the set of My Best Friend’s Wedding; Everett having to fight the powers that be to make his The Next Best Thing character have a gay sex life; John Schlesinger nodding off behind the camera of that same film; and most shockingly of all, Everett having a torrid affair with French sexpot BÉATRICE DALLE. His description of Dalle reveals his evocative skill, which, let me remind you, drives me mad with rage: “Her kind of beauty was definitely pre-Botox, much deeper than the cash-and-carry bargains of today. Its origins were the gaslit barmaids of Manet and the Parisian demimonde between the wars. She was jolie laide—pretty and ugly. If you pulled back her hair, her head was the shape of a woodland elf . . . ” Curses on you, Rupert Everett! You’re too damned good!


The Saint at very large
Another talent I’m jealous of, the trés jolie
JENNIFER HUDSON, made her New York concert debut at the Saint at Large party at the Hammerstein Ballroom, where the fates tried to put the nightmare back into
Dreamgirls. There were some technical glitches, from no light on Hudson’s entrance to our star wondering where the backup music was when she started her finale. Midway through the concert, Hudson left the stage to two mime types, coming back several minutes later in the same outfit! Where did she go—another club? Also, after her climactic number got applause, there was uncomfortable darkness and silence, which prompted someone official to take the mic and scream, “More Jennifer Hudson! More Jennifer Hudson!” But in pulling off this sort of mammoth endeavor, minor faux pas are to be expected, and Hudson was a pro in putting up with them, belting on cue, abetted by video screens, go-go-briefed dancers, and fab House of Aviance members. She veered between much of the
Dreamgirls canon (the best was a soulful “One Night Only”) and TV-style covers of
Aretha and MANILOW hits, pausing to tell us how at one point the moviemakers wanted a thinner Effie, “but we like Effie big, don’t we?”

Yes, we do! Alas, her repertoire seems to have shrunk. As I mentioned online last week, Hudson is shockingly not allowed to do her big number, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” until after the Oscars for some strategic reason or another. Her not singing the song everyone came to hear was an elephant in the room, trampling a lot of people’s hopes, dreams, and credit cards. Instead, she ended with a rather uninspired version of a disco song, parading through the front lines of the audience and letting them sing solos à la the original dreamgirl, DIANA ROSS. Overall, the uneven concert came off like that of a good American Idol contestant, not that of an Oscar front-runner. Hudson can’t help but entertain, but right now that movie remains her best venue.

Hudson was honored at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards and was sobbing as she accepted, saying, “I’m so nervous! I did not expect this!” But it was announced a month ago. Oh, well, I also enjoyed HELEN MIRREN‘s telegram thanking “the knowing and beady-eyed New York film critics” and ROBIN WILLIAMS‘s in-person description of Happy Feet: “It’s
Riverdance meets March of the Penguins, with a gay agenda!” Some other actors had trotted out familiar-sounding feelings about “growing comfortable in my own skin” and “growing as a person and an artist,” but Williams delightfully defused all the earnestness with zingers like “Hi, Marty [Scorsese]. I like the fact that Jack said, ‘Fuck the accent!’ ” Even cuter was
Dreamgirls director BILL CONDON telling me, “Have you noticed what perfect heads Matt and Leo have? That’s what makes them so appealing!”

Beforehand, I chatted with PETER MORGAN, who has a lovely British accent and a nice head and who wrote The Queen and The Last King of Scotland, the year’s two juiciest acting vehicles, not to mention two of three projects he’s recently done about world leaders in crisis (along with the play Frost/Nixon). Is he getting a bit typed? “The thought has occurred to me,” said Morgan. “Previous to this cycle, I’d been writing fiction, and I’ll do so again. I’ve gotten into a rut doing this stuff, but people seem to like it, so I’d be a fool to stop.” His next film is about the gruesomely executed Saddam Hussein, I mean Anne Boleyn.

The most deranged leaders of all—the church’s pedophile apologists—star in the Best Documentary winner, AMY BERG‘s Deliver Us From Evil, which chillingly details how Father
Oliver O’Grady molested away as his beady-eyed higher-ups refused to read his (rosary) beads. How on earth did she get O’Grady to cooperate? Did she offer a chicken buffet? “It was another confession for him,” she told me. “That’s how he dealt with things all along—he’d go into confession.” Me too! It doesn’t work!


New year’s evil

New Year’s Eve gets the award for the second-biggest amateur holiday after Halloween, so it was fun to spend it with the pros at the Hiro Ballroom’s Cuckoo Club. There were go-go dancers with cock socks to protect them from poking my eyes out, a weird baldy who always zooms in on the only biological woman in the room and rubs against her behind, and
LADYFAG—a newish-on-the-scene Canadian cross between Frida Kahlo and Big Bird—who sparkled and high-kicked but mercifully didn’t molt all over the dancefloor.

Earlier, at a civilized house party at star photographer HARRY KING‘s apartment, sitcom legend JOYCE DEWITT demonstrated the “chair dancing” she does at bars to convince people she’s having a good time, even though she’s shy and would often rather be relaxing home alone. I agree—one’s company!

I had unwanted company last Tuesday at Room Service’s “strip room” when a seductive female employee started stroking me and purring, clearly wanting to go further for tips. “Sorry, we take it up the ass,” I genteelly informed her about me and my circle of friends. “I don’t care,” she countered, blithely. “Well, I do!” I replied, slinking back to the main room.

Back in the safety of my living room, I nodded off to the boring faux cynicism of Dirt, with shark-faced COURTENEY COX failing to convince as human, let alone inhuman. And though JEFFREY CARLSON once threw me a very fishy look when I was schmoozing with a Taboo
co-star of his, I’ve always found him ultra-talented, so I tuned in to All My Children to see him as a transitioning rock star, thrilled that Erica Kane won’t be the show’s only tranny anymore. He’s sensational, with taunting eyes, drop earrings, and an even deeper voice than
FELICITY HUFFMAN‘s. He even managed to be so riveting while singing “Falling in Love Again” that you didn’t stop to think it was a Hedwig rip-off. But now that Zarf/Zoe is being questioned about various murders, I pray this doesn’t turn out to be another psycho-killer tranny for the public’s delectation!

Perfectly sane drag queens entertained me, gossip queen CINDY ADAMS, and writer BEAUREGARD HOUSTON-MONTGOMERY at Lips, from ALL-BEEF PATTY belting the prison matron’s song from Chicago (yes, she sang! A drag queen sang live!) to GINGER and owner YVON LAMÉ ripping into the crowd and each other during raucous rounds of Bitchy Bingo. It was all very hilariously no-holds-barred, but it took a lumpy audience member from Iowa to step to the mic and tell the night’s best joke: “Why do women make bad carpenters? Because all their lives they’ve been told that this [she made a tiny-meat gesture with two adjacent fingers] is eight inches!” Top that, Rupert Everett.


Web extra: Tired of my constant whining and pleading for validation? Then come tell me off about it in person—please! This Friday, January 12, at 7:15 p.m, I’ll be hanging out at Oscar Wilde bookshop (15 Christopher Street), where I’ll making an in-store appearance to schmooze and/or peddle my new book. I need the attention!


musto@villagevoice.com

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Justify Your Existence

Subtitled “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People,” The Importance of Being Earnest is Oscar Wilde’s airiest confection, a bite-sized meringue delectable with melt-in-your-mouth epigrams. Though its tart center tastes of class resentment and the exhaustion of necessary dissimulation, the play draws the sweetest of conclusions—namely, that self-invention is a natural phenomenon, and worthy of celebration. Winkingly focused on a pair of bachelor dandies juggling double identities, Wilde’s drawing-room farce was also something of a cryptogram, and it happened to debut on the London stage the same year the writer’s own design for living was so cruelly condemned. Earnest triumphantly opened in February 1895 and sheepishly closed in May, during Wilde’s trials for “gross indecency”; weeks later, he entered Reading Gaol, and never wrote another work for the stage.

For Oliver Parker, the importance of adapting Earnest lies in the text—not the context, and certainly not the subtext. Much like his previous Oscar screener, An Ideal Husband, Parker’s rendition—the first production to be released under the Ealing Studios banner in 57 years—is a proficient skim of the Man With the Green Carnation’s wit and wisdom, piped by an able crew of quick-tongued ventriloquists. (The hits don’t quit: “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune . . . to lose both seems like carelessness.” “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.” “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. . . . No man does. That is his.”) Jack (Colin Firth) maintains separate personae in town and country, as does his friend Algy (Rupert Everett), a form of social compartmentalizing that the latter curiously dubs “Bunburying.” (The Bunburyist’s predilections are left unspecified in the play; the film pegs them as cigarettes and cancan dancers.) In the guise of his alter ego, “Ernest,” Jack is smitten with Algy’s horny cousin, Gwendolen (Frances O’Connor), while Algy, appropriating the Ernest mantle for himself, falls for his buddy’s bright-eyed ward, Cecily (Reese Witherspoon). The women become rivals, then allies when they discover their mutual entanglement with lovers that dare not speak their names.

Parker pads Earnest‘s avowedly slight figure with fantasy sequences, flashbacks, chase scenes, even an ill-fated trip to the tattoo parlor, and the stuffing shows. Indeed, for a handsomely financed Miramax production, the movie is ribboned with crooked seams: muddy sound, glaring continuity errors, a mischievous boom mic, Everett’s suddenly AWOL mustache. Though Parker ranges far from the the play’s series of confined spaces, there’s no visual wit or blocking savvy—surely no one was minding the bakery when a comically foolproof contretemps between Jack and nervous eater Algy entailing 12 invocations of the word “muffins” was allowed to collapse on the screen like a traumatized cake.

Tonally, however, Earnest boasts perfect pitch, thanks mainly to the blithe, nimble actors. Everett and Firth’s ruefully affectionate, roughhousing chemistry feels decades lived-in (actually, they co-starred as fellow Marxist misfits in Another Country nearly 20 years ago), Witherspoon’s matter-of-fact daftness keeps daydreamy Cecily tethered to earth, and you will know Judi Dench by the trail of dead (as imperious Lady Bracknell, the mother of all mothers). Parker’s Earnest certainly doesn’t get in Wilde’s way, but neither does it justify its own existence—what’s the point of a mere face-value appropriation? Shakespeare gets a cine-update every other week, so isn’t Oscar Wilde ready for his 21st-century close-up?


Toward The Importance of Being Earnest‘s finale, Jack turns supplicant: “Lady Bracknell, I hate to seem inquisitive, but would you kindly inform me who I am?” Existential quandaries also plague the multi-thread 13 Conversations About One Thing, a jigsaw rumination on the pursuit of happiness as attempted by a white-collar misanthrope (Alan Arkin), a hotshit lawyer (Matthew McConaughey), a beatific custodian (Clea DuVall), and a self-pitying math professor (John Turturro), the last of whom announces the film’s fixation on points of no return when he scrawls “IRREVERSIBLE” on a chalkboard.

Jill Sprecher’s second feature communicates its block-capital ideas via whispery, receding performances, a match more dissonant than complementary. Written by Sprecher with her sister Karen, the screenplay tries to digest Kant, Sartre, and Bertrand Russell, but seems preemptively fatigued by its appointment with Destiny. The bewildered characters play temporal hopscotch through underpopulated midtown avenues and scrubbed, deserted West Village side streets—seemingly grafted from Eyes Wide Shut outtakes or a Residents in Distress wet dream. Aspiring to evoke an unreal city stranded in the autumn of the soul, the film succeeds only when it peers up from the intro-philosophy book for the occasional glimpse of everyday beauty—most memorably, a sudden evening wind snatching a newly dry-cleaned shirt from a girl’s hand. 13 Conversations leaps back and forth in time to answer its endless what-if’s and why-me’s, but the season is forever fall.


Maybe Melville country should be zoned for the French. After Claire Denis’s hallucinatory tone-poem translation of Billy Budd (Beau Travail) and Leos Carax’s marvelous train-wreck salute to Pierre, or the Ambiguities (Pola X), inscrutable Bartleby the Scrivener suffers further torment when his ghost is exhumed for Jonathan Parker’s embarrassing present-day Bartleby (notwithstanding its central casting coup: eternal manchild Crispin Glover as he who would prefer not to). The loud, musty production design—steeped in lime greens and tangerine oranges—smells of recirculated air and enervated ambition, but unfortunately, so does the movie itself. You’d think Melville had drafted a Saturday Night Live skit, replete with a supporting role for Joe “The Rock” Piscopo.

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NY Mirror

Rupert Everett isn’t the title character in The Importance of Being Earnest—he’s the friend—and it’s really pip-pip-alicious to find out that he isn’t that earnest in person either. At a reception at Calliope, the charm-drenched actor told me his character is “a dishonest sponge, cad, thief, and liar.” A real stretch, right? Fortunately, Rupert laughed at that rather than punch me out, I think because at least I wasn’t pummeling him with gay questions. (He used to be more Frank, I mean frank, about the queer stuff, but he never counted on being Hollywood’s ultimate homo, so now he leaves the room when that’s your main tack.) All righty, then, which other queen was fiercer—Oscar Wilde or Noël Coward? Wilde, he said, because “he had a real angle, before Freud, on duplicities, on the contradiction between the surface and the interior. He drew a lot from how the English upper classes are so dishonest.” But their phoniness doesn’t make Rupert want to vomit, he said, because “it’s no phonier than anyone else’s phoniness.” “How true!” I chirped, all phony and shit.

But we both suddenly became alarmingly sincere when discussing animated films—don’t ask—with Rupert declaring, “My emotional life stopped with Bambi, when the mother died. Also with Jungle Book, when Baloo yelled, ‘Come back!’ and the little slut is singing, ‘I must go to fetch the water.’ Mowgli’s going to leave the animal kingdom forever!” I thought the bloke might break down sobbing, so we segued on to half-animated films, and Rupie declared, “Pete’s Dragon and Bedknobs and Broomsticks are no classics, but Mary Poppins is a perfect film!” With that, I left him, all glazed over with happiness. Besides, I had to go to fetch the water.

But I’ll leave the room, I swear, unless I can bring up something très gay right this minute! Did you notice that even Spider-Man, about an oppressed kid who develops special powers and fights back, throws in a gratuitous pinch of homophobia? When Tobey Maguire is about to kick a wrestler’s ass, he unnecessarily quips, “That’s a cute outfit. Did your husband give it to you?” (Asked about the remark at a junket, Maguire said they were desperate for a line there and everyone on the set was offering suggestions. That one got the biggest laugh, so they used it—but now he realizes maybe it wasn’t the greatest idea.)

Spider-Man was even in the air at the Film Society of Lincoln Center tribute to Francis Ford Coppola, where the director said it’s great that some movies can make over $100 million in a weekend, but “there’s a lot more that the cinema was put here to do.” (And I don’t think he meant make $200 million.) The event could have fallen into the gooey trap inherent in having a helmsman toasted by actors who want to keep working for him. But the praise-heaping thesps weren’t lying, and the clips proved Coppola to indeed be a man of vision, blah blah blah, with so much precision and sweep that even his stinkers—The Rain People, The Cotton Club—were starting to look good. (Maybe someone should serve up another peep at Pete’s Dragon.) Among the speakers, sister Talia Shire made it clear how close my kinship is with Coppola. (“Francis is the first to be the first. He starts the trends,” she said, adding that “as a child, he put himself in a box and wrapped himself in tin foil.” Me too!) And Al Pacino was great, bravely admitting, “I didn’t want to do The Godfather!”

More honors? At the Lucille Lortel Awards for Off-Broadway, sour grapes made for fizzy champagne when presenter Illeana Douglas said, “We’re surviving Surviving Grace despite what [Times critic] Bruce Weber said. . . . Who is Bruce Weber anyway? I work in film too, Bruce. Ha ha ha.”

More disgruntlement? Someone on the set of Six Feet Under insists that Rachel Griffiths is a bit of a diva and is rather unpopular with a lot of the cast and crew. She may be brilliant and nab awards, but some of her co-workers simply don’t like her—though the one time I met Griffiths, I found her daft but winning.

Meanwhile, a certain talk-show host is adored by millions, but some folks on his set call him “the king of flatulence” and, even more damningly, “a pompous ass.” Still, he does have a real angle on the contradiction between the surface and the interior.

Moving right along with whatever dignity I have left, Clea DuVall is a well-liked actress who shines in her niche of playing sympathetic oddballs and fringe characters. In The Faculty, they thought she was a lesbian, but she wasn’t. In But I’m a Cheerleader, they thought she was a lesbian, and she was. And now, in Thirteen Conversations About One Thing—an arty, capital-M Meditation on fate versus chance versus choice—24-year-old Clea sings in a choir, almost drowns, is hit by Matthew McConaughey‘s car, and treasures a doll head. Over coffee at Essex House last week, the California actress told me, “I’m starting to think maybe it’s me that’s a little odd. I’m definitely attracted to characters that aren’t the norm, that aren’t girls you see every day.”

Good news for her: DuVall’s not a brooding outsider in everyday life too. “I was 19 when I made The Faculty, and I definitely had some teen angst in me,” she admitted, “but now I feel very far from that. I do worry all the time, but I think I’m more comfortable now and not so unhappy with myself. It’s a hard business, especially for a young girl. You get all kinds of weird body-image problems and social problems that I’d never experienced before. No one ever told me to lose weight until I started acting, and that doesn’t ever feel good!”

The irony of her having to pretty up in order to play weirdo outcasts isn’t lost on Clea at all. “You’ve got to be a skinny oddball,” she said, wincing. “You’ve got to be a beautiful ugly girl.” I only see the beauty—in fact, to me she looks spookily like a female Josh Hartnett. “I get that all the time,” Clea said, lightening up. “I told Josh I wanted to have his baby so we could make little clones—the attack of the clones.” Pint-sized beautiful oddballs—sounds good to me.

But let’s head back—as everything must—to the Spider-Man generation, which is learning the importance of being more wild than earnest on the club scene. Kurfew, the weekly gay youth bash, has gone through so many changes it’s well past puberty by now. The funsy event is almost grown up and happening on Fridays at Twirl, which seems the perfect backdrop for all the boppy energy and last-chance innocence. Walls of videos add a trippy touch as the gayettes dance to sped-up remixes of pop hits, though the organizers are striving for a teensy bit more maturity these days. As promoter Jeff Brenner told me, “I’ve heard 21-year-olds say, ‘I’m too old for Kurfew now,’ but that’s crazy. We want 18 to 30.” Unfortunately, that edges me out just by a hair. Shut up.

As for fully grown folks, Sexy Wednesdays at Eugene are thrown by about a dozen drag queens who nab a mix of club survivors, space aliens, straight couples, an asshole who drags you over to meet his friend from Rhode Island, and a casting director handing out flyers for a club-kid open call. I liked it, but then again I think Julia Roberts is imitating Sandra Bullock.

But I’m a little over Magnum at the Park. Everyone there is always saying, “The sex is in the next room,” but then when you get there, it’s moved on to the room after that. Or maybe it’s when I get there.


musto@villagevoice.com

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Through a Mirror Darkly

The newly pop-culture-friendly gay man/straight woman paradigm—rendered invariably as a wellspring of waggish repartee and mutual you-go-girl empathy—reaches a hall-of-mirrors dead end with real-life tag team Rupert Everett and Madonna. Going at least one convolution further than the likes of Will and Grace and The Object of My Affection, The Next Best Thing saddles its homo-hetero best friends with a baby.

Robert, a gardener, and Abbie, a yoga instructor, are what you might call soul mates—both are shrill, maudlin, narcissistic creatures who speak in wilted epigrams. Their accidental reproduction adventure begins in a haze of boozy self-pity. The script offers the drunken duo the excuse of a friend’s recent death (his funeral occasions an a cappella version of Madonna’s new single “American Pie”), but the real catalyst for their surprise fuck is a nobody-loves-me wallow session. In behavior that movies evidently deem typical of fag-and-hag camaraderie, they bitch toothlessly about a beauty pageant on TV (“Her national costume is too tight!”) and get misty-eyed over lost loves (“I don’t miss being first runner-up”).

For nearly an hour, The Next Best Thing passes itself off as a celebration of alternative families—with Abbie and Robert raising their son together, a living arrangement whose built-in complications seem not to have crossed their minds—then takes it all back with a surge of Kramer vs. Kramer histrionics. When Abbie falls for a New York banker (Benjamin Bratt), the movie morphs into a custody-battle melodrama, complete with kidnap-panic scene and tearful courtroom testimonials.

An embarrassment to rival her “Ray of Light” death-yodel at the MTV awards two years back, Madonna’s performance here consists of feigning an English accent, for no apparent reason and only when it occurs to her to do so. Everett, who registers more than ever as a butch Hugh Grant, deserves even greater blame, having apparently tailored the screenplay for himself and Madonna (the witless mess remains credited to Thomas Ropelewski, whose most notable previous work is Look Who’s Talking Now). Whether in screwball-gaysploitation or issue-of-the-week mode, the movie—directed in hands-off fashion by the increasingly doddery John Schlesinger—favors crude dramatic devices over even the most basic character psychology. This is, of course, a problem lost on Madonna and Everett, who have approached The Next Best Thing as a vanity project—hell-bent on playing barely human characters as themselves, they’ve created something quitebewilderingly ugly in the process.




A more coherent but no more sophisticated view of the perilous modern mating game, Mike Nichols’s What Planet Are You From? starsGarry Shandling as an alien sent to impregnate an earthling—the first step in an imminent takeover by his all-male planet, whose highly evolved natives possess neither emotions nor genitalia. For his mission, our dickless hero—assuming the guise of Harold Anderson, Phoenix banker—has been fitted with a mechanical penis that, when aroused, makes an alarming whirring noise (somewhere between vibrator and Cuisinart). Cruising AA meetings with sleazy coworker Greg Kinnear, Harold zeroes in on his target: mildly neurotic, sweetly patient 12-stepper Susan (Annette Bening).

Literalizing the Men Are From Mars conundrum, the movie essentially writes itself, but the performances save it from Earth Girls Are Easy opprobrium. An actor who never trades in half-measures, Bening actually works hard at making Susan a flesh-and-blood person; the supporting cast includes the great John Goodman, as a suspicious aviation investigator, and Linda Fiorentino, back to vamping after her mysteriously anemic turn in Dogma. Shandling, who also cowrote the screenplay, has no range to speak of (his fixed expression is one of severe consternation), but his knowingly piggish self-absorption prevents the movie from thickening into treacle. There’s a certain satisfaction in recognizing that Harold—even when he inevitably starts to feel, just like a human—remains something of an asshole.

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Quentin Crisp, 1908–1999

The queen is dead. Long live the queen. Quentin Crisp—who was out before Rupert Everett, outlandish before Elton John, and alive before George Michael—was the British wit-raconteur-pansy par excellence. A dear man with pinched features and the look of Erté playing Lady Bracknell, the charismatic author and actor was a veritable Pez dispenser of aphorisms, which you could count on him to emit with a seemingly superhuman élan.

“Love,” he once told me, “is that extra effort we make with those we don’t really like.” “All morality,” he similarly volunteered, “is just expediency in a long white dress.” One chuckled, even while realizing that these sayings also appeared verbatim in his articles, books, and stage shows.

Crisp even had some well-rehearsed witticisms about his witticisms, but way before people paid to hear him unleash these epigrams, his life had no punch line at all. Crisp moved to post-Stonewall New York in the afterglow of the ’76 TV version of his memoir, The Naked Civil Servant, but he’d been far less popular as a flowery creature in an England that was practically pre-Stonehenge. With frilly scarves and flapping wrists that today might get you a starring role opposite De Niro, Crisp bravely invited gawking and abuse, and felt he richly deserved it. “I expected to be hit on the head,” he once told me, “because if I’m making one kind of protest, people must be allowed to make another.” Never mind that Crisp’s protest wasn’t violent and didn’t call for that kind of reciprocation; this particular witticism was in his repertoire and it was staying there.

In fact, a lot of Crisp’s sputterings were of the type that made activists anxious to dispel him from the sisterhood. He felt that gays shouldn’t bother fighting for a place at the table, and that things were still so dire for queers that if a fetus could somehow be found to be gay, it should be aborted. “It is absolute nonsense for minorities to be militant,” he told me. “You must lose. How much do you get by banging on the table, shouting ‘Give me my food’? Or is it possible to just sit there so long they feed you?” New tides of enforced change seemed to be disproving his theory, but Crisp clung to passivity, even while it inspired outrage. At least he was aware that he was out of step with the new kids. When one gay journal said The Naked Civil Servant should have been published posthumously, Crisp knowingly told me, “That’s a literary way of saying, ‘Drop dead.’ ”

Toward the end, most ignored the views and enjoyed the man—specifically his delicate, likable manner and the way he said things more than the actual content (which was often devastatingly on-target anyway). A regular on the party scene—and at the old Cooper Square Diner—he reveled in his late-life discovery, seizing the chance to be celebrated and heard, and admitting, “I have gone into the fame business.” Surrounded by walkers and well-wishers, he basked in the admiration, while quietly coping with the reality that he was frail, far from wealthy, and felt he would die alone.

Last week, Crisp, 90, died of a heart attack in his sleep while on the verge of launching his one-man show in Manchester, England. (At a party I had last year, he smirkily complained that theatrical touring would kill him.) He had an aphorism for dying, too: “I have always liked death, especially other people’s death, but have recently been contemplating my own with a certain amount of relish.”

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Hey! They’re Workin’ Here!

Playing the mild, schlumpy schoolteacher who falls for the beautiful, eponymous thief in B. Monkey, Jared Harris puts on the self-deprecating air of someone who can never make his words come out quite the way he wants, whose full intelligence and humor is always halted by self-consciousness. None of these nuances exist in the script, which finds Harris chasing his raven-haired fashion plate down a dark, rain-slick London avenue on second sight; rather, Harris devises means for edging around the histrionics of the film, which seems awfully humorless for such a rote retreading of the one-last-fix-and-then-I’m-going-straight hoodlum plot.

In fact, all of the principal players escape unscathed. As B. Monkey herself, or Beatrice as she’s known at her desk job, Asia Argento emanates cool, confident sexuality. Rupert Everett portrays an old-money, layabout starfucker whose debts to loan sharks detain his pal Beatrice in her life of crime; as in An Ideal Husband, Everett murmurs all his lines with melancholic absent-mindedness. On the other end of the spectrum is Jonathan Rhys Meyers, flinging himself headlong into his role as Beatrice’s getaway driver and Everett’s mercurial boy toy, screaming and thrashing and flapping those lips like She’s the Boss–era Mick Jagger. Director Michael Radford (Il Postino) doesn’t give anyone enough to do—Harris broods, Argento pouts, Meyers plays Mr. Furious, Everett smokes an assload of pot—but the cast tries their darndest anyway, even once Beatrice follows her man to the Yorkshire countryside (of course, every time she thinks she’s out, they keep pulling her back in); indeed, when Beatrice says, “I couldn’t be happier,” the movie has finally found a suitable key of bittersweet resignation. B. Monkey is crawling with smart actors saying things they don’t quite mean, and while that’s not enough, it’s a good time watching them extricate themselves from one sticky situation after another without tripping any wires. A new conceit: acting as cat burglary.



— Likewise searching for means of extrication is recent heatstroke victim Martin Lawrence, who’d surely like to divorce himself from an ongoing string of public mishaps. In Blue Streak,

Lawrence also plays a jewel thief, albeit one who impersonates a cop in order to locate a diamond lost in a botched heist. Lawrence’s gun-toting safecracker is just a nice guy earning honest pay (Dave Chappelle, in the Jonathan Rhys Meyers role as Lawrence’s hothead driver, sums it up during a cartoonish convenience store shootout: “Hey! I’m workin’ here!”). The contortional physical shtick familiar from Lawrence’s sitcom, laden with a dollop of Three Stooges violence, should keep the boys happy, and Lawrence’s deft byplay with Chappelle (who benefits from smashing lines like “I’ll rip ya lips off and kiss my ass with them shits”) showcases a comedian still somehow on his game.

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Parallel Lives

Adapted from Oscar Wilde’s romantic comedy of manners about an ambitious politician with a scandalous secret hanging over his head and the morally upstanding wife who wrongly believes he is perfection itself, An Ideal Husband is set in end-of-the-19th-
century London, but it might as well be end-of-the-20th-century D.C. Director Oliver Parker doesn’t belabor the parallels, which in any case are not exact. But the implication that politics has always been a dirty business is one of the pleasures of the film.


Parker, who also wrote the script, keeps most of Wilde’s jokes, but he tightens the talk and adds a plot device of his own. His film is hardly memorable, but it’s amusing enough for two hours, and it never panders or cloys. That’s more than can be said for the ludicrously written Notting Hill, in which Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant seem to be engaged in a head-cocking, lip-biting, eyebrow-raising, teeth-
baring contest of their own devising. It’s as if their faces had become muscle-bound from the strain of delivering star power in every close-up.


No such burden is placed on Rupert Everett and Cate Blanchett; they still have the luxury of being actors rather than megastars. Everett plays Lord Arthur Goring, a 35-year-old bachelor who’s feeling the pressure to end his party-boy existence and get about the business of marrying and breeding. “Other people are quite dreadful. To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance,” said Wilde, using Lord Goring as a mouthpiece. It’s the mark of Everett’s excellent performance that for two hours he causes you to all but forget about Wilde and believe instead that Lord Goring issues such witticisms on the fly.


Everett also lets you understand that beneath Lord Goring’s dedicated superficiality is a serious person, capable of great loyalty to his friends, in this case Sir Robert Chiltern (Jeremy Northam) and his wife (Blanchett). Sir Robert is being blackmailed by a scheming femme fatale (Julianne Moore), who has proof that he once leaked a government secret and reaped sufficient funds for his indiscretion to jump-start his brilliant political career. If she goes public with this information, his career and his marriage are over. Lord Goring, who believes that no life is without some indiscretion and that those who would bring Sir Robert down are hypocrites with checkered pasts of their own, sets an elaborate scheme in motion to save his friend and in the process discovers that he values marriage more than he knew.


Of the three characters in this peculiar triangle, Sir Robert is the least developed (or perhaps Northam’s performance is a bit too stolid). Blanchett, however, continues to amaze. She suggests a strength of character reminiscent of the young Ingrid Bergman, and her precise comic timing never distracts from the seriousness of her character’s dilemma. A proto-feminist who tries to use her privilege for the common good, Lady Chiltern cannot make truly moral choices until she recognizes the contradictions in society and within human beings that make it impossible for anyone, including herself, to live up to her ideals. Some of the other actors fare less well. Julianne Moore as the heartless blackmailer and Minnie Driver as the willful young woman determined to marry Lord Goring simply work too hard.


Parker lacks any distinctive directorial style, although he does a credible job of opening the play up, as they say, for the screen. The first scene, with most of the major characters on horseback (women as well as men), crossing paths and exchanging small talk, sets the tone for everything that follows in this brisk and funny film.

Seul (Alone), a 30-minute film that
Erick Zonca made in 1996, is both a sketch for his lovely debut feature, The Dreamlife of Angels, and a fully realized work in its own right. Seul, which is screening just once (June 19) as part of the otherwise spotty “French Short Film Festival,” suggests that Zonca, who seemed to emerge out of nowhere as a fully mature filmmaker, is not just a one-trick pony, despite his consuming interest in fragile young women living on the edge.


Where Dreamlife of Angels is about the relationship between two such women, Seul focuses on just one. Played with great intensity by Florence Loiret, a look-alike for Dreamlife‘s Nathalie Regnier, she has a diffident manner that’s an inadequate cover for her explosive rage. This young woman (I don’t think she’s ever named) finds herself destitute and homeless when she loses, in rapid succession, her waitressing job, her apartment, and all her possessions except a nasty-looking gun that she has acquired by chance and that no one will buy because it’s a police revolver.


Zonca gets most of his narrative tension from that gun, which the young woman carries first in her handbag and then, after her handbag is stolen by an Elodie Bouchez type (but more callous and mean), in a tattered plastic bag that she keeps clutched to her chest. The gun is the secret she shares with us, though no one (she least of all) knows what she will do with it in the end. Meanwhile, we watch as desperation and hunger drive her into madness.


Elliptically structured, the film has an unhurried pace that adds to the tension and the pathos. Like Dreamlife of Angels, Seul has a vivid sense of place. Zonca’s Paris is a bustling, warm city filled with energetic people who think nothing of freezing out a 20-year-old incapable of fending for herself.

Even at his best, as in the elegant psychological-horror film See the Sea, François Ozon lacks the subtlety of Zonca. Sitcom, a macabre domestic comedy that’s getting a release after a year on the festival circuit, is something of a French surburban reworking of Freud’s Totem and Taboo. The totem animal is a large white laboratory rat that the father brings home and whose presence liberates the id of every person with whom it comes in contact—except the one with whom it’s most closely identified. Because the conceit is not convincing, the pileup of perversities—from incest to sadomasochism to cannibalism—seems like an exercise in épater le bourgeois. Ozon has a flamboyant sense of style, which he uses to mean-spirited ends.

Correction: Eric Rohmer’s short film Cambrure was transferred from DV to 35mm, not to 16mm as I wrote last week. I don’t know what I was thinking—they don’t even have 16mm
projectors at Cannes.