“I love sex. It's just one of the truly great ideas," the
hero of "Jeffrey" tells us in the film's opening moments. And for a
gay man like Jeffrey, there was the brief moment of sexual liberation to enjoy,
before the specter of AIDS closed down the party. Now Jeffrey (Steven Weber)
finds his sex life so frightening that he decides to swear off - to become celibate,
and find other interests. It's not so much that he fears becoming HIV-positive
himself, although he does; it's that he fears falling in love with someone who
everybody dies sooner or later, but Jeffrey is protective and can't see setting
himself up for a loss.
why it's inconvenient one day when he's working out at the gym, and Steve
(Michael T. Weiss) makes a pass, and the earth shakes. He's powerfully
attracted to Steve, but fights to suppress his feelings.
dilemma was the subject of an Off-Broadway play by Paul Rudnick (a.k.a. Libby
Gelman-Waxner, the chatty film columnist for Premiere magazine). Now it's been
adapted for the screen, again with revue devices, like speeches directly to the
audience, cameo comedy roles and even a walk-on for Mother Teresa.
the saintly Mother, another of Jeffrey's friends makes a snap judgment:
"She's had work." The line comes from the movie's most sharply drawn
and entertaining character, Sterling (Patrick Stewart, of "Star Trek: The
Next Generation"), whose lover, Darius (Bryan Batt) is a dancer who is
HIV-positive. Sterling is a meticulously maintained middle-age man with a
barbed tongue, quick intelligence and the belief that love is so rare that when
it comes, you have to accept it on its own terms, even if that means (as it
does in Darius' case) that HIV comes along with it.
can't see it that way, and goes through a series of rather unconvincing denials
of love before finally caving in to Steve's charm and technique. And that's
basically what the movie is about - love, risk and loss - apart from the
vignettes, which include Sigourney Weaver as a TV-style self-help guru, and
Olympia Dukakis as the mom of a man who intends to become not merely a woman
but a lesbian.
is not without its moments, but the movie never really convinced me it knew
what it was doing. It's more a series of sketches and momentary inspirations
than a story that grows interesting - and to guard against our growing too
involved, there are intertitles and other self-conscious devices, including a
sequence where after two men kiss on the screen, the film cuts to two teenage
couples in an imaginary movie audience who find the kiss hard to deal with.
This sequence contains the idea for an interesting short film, but as a scene
in this one, it's all wrong.
melancholy problem is illustrated by the movie itself. Although
"death" has long been a code word in poetry for the moment of climax,
the linking of sex and death by AIDS has made it difficult to tell gay male
love stories that don't have at least the possibility of a macabre subtext. One
solution is to deal with the situation in true drama, as "Longtime
Companion" and "Philadelphia" did. Another may be to set the
story back to the years before AIDS.
"Jeffrey" does is confront the problem through humor and
self-analysis, which is interesting. But when there's a problem love story, and
the problem is of more concern to the characters than the love, you've got . .
. well, you've got a problem.