January 16, 2010

Parting Glances

** ½ out of ****

Bill Sherwood’s “Parting Glances” (1986) is a film that is rather like candy; it is a sweet confectionary while you indulge, but a taste that does not last long after it is gone. Ambitious but flawed, “Parting Glances” is certainly an admirable effort from first-time director Sherwood (who died four years later of complications from AIDS, having never made another film). One of the biggest weaknesses of this romantic comedy about a gay couple of six years, Michael (Richard Ganoung) and Robert (John Bolger, “General Hospital”), is that it seems slightly unfocused at times. The center of the film is a celebration party for the imminent, work-related departure of Robert to Africa (who has agreed to go because he feels things on the home front are growing stale), but this feels like a weightless space to me. I think the real heart of the film is the side story about Michael’s former lover and best friend, Nick (Steve Buscemi), who deals gracefully with AIDS.

Not only does Buscemi steal every scene in which he appears, but his story is particularly relevant in the 1980s, a time when HIV/AIDS was a “gay disease” and a death sentence. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of “Parting Glances” is the fact that it treats Nick with as much respect as he does himself. Instead of feeling sorry for him or treating his character morbidly, Nick fires off some of the film’s funniest lines. Buscemi brings an impressive amount of charisma to Nick, one of his first film roles.

In addition, Kathy Kinney (“The Drew Carey Show”), in her first film role, is equally hilarious as Michael and Robert’s fag-hag artist friend, Joan. In fact, the performances of these two supporting characters, Nick and Joan, greatly overshadow the two leads, Michael and Robert. Ganoung’s caring and sensitive Michael is an admirable protagonist, but he is not satisfying enough alone. On the other hand, Bolger’s Robert is more like wallpaper with his stiff acting and “to-be-looked-at”-ness.

I suppose my sentiments about the two leads logically inform my preference for Nick’s story over the main story. “Parting Glances” offers a surprisingly enjoyable, laugh-out-loud approach to a bleak subject. In this regard, Sherwood’s script is unbelievably natural and novel for its time. In fact, it could be said that the film’s novelty, which rests especially in its depiction of a character with AIDS (and especially one who resists death), predates the early ‘90s New Queer Cinema.

Unfortunately, I cannot help but feel these positive aspects of the film are weakened by the parts where the plot loses some focus in frivolous dialogue and gratuitous scenes. This could simply be attributed to the fact that Sherwood is a first-time filmmaker. However, having seen the aspirations of “Parting Glances,” I wonder what Sherwood’s later work could have been like.

*As seen in the January 2010 issue of "Out & About" newspaper. To access it, click here.*