Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Broken Hearts Club


Rehearsal is scheduled to begin on my new musical spectacular, Bridget Over Troubled Waters, a kabuki adaptation of the John Dahl film, The Last Seduction, this next week so Chateau Maine is a flurry of activity. The producers are on a limited budget and we have to save funds during the rehearsal period so, instead of hiring a hall, we'll be working in my basement home studio. The set designer was busy taping the lines on the floor and moving in some platforms earlier today. 

I've been busy at my electric keyboard learning the music to a few of the show stopping numbers I'll be delivering over the course of the evening. In keeping with the Japanese style of the piece, the lyrics are all darling little haiku, courtesy of that most talented composer, Barry Manilow, expanding on his commercial jingle background in new and super ways. I just adore my opening song, I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say Noh! which allows my character to transition from her old life in the city to her new life in the sticks in only thirty-seven seventeen syllable verses. I'm having a bit of trouble with some of the intervals in the pentatonic scale but I know I'll be ready for our first read-through tomorrow. 

While resting my voice with a warm elderberry tea, I slipped the latest arrival from Netflix into the home theater system for a look. The film was Greg Berlanti's The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy, , a film cursed with an extremely obvious subtitle. The openly gay Mr. Berlanti is the co-instigator of Dawson's Creek together with wunderkind Kevin Williamson and, for his maiden effort as writer/director, he stuck with what he knew: The lives and loves of young gay men in the West Hollywood section of Los Angeles. 

The slight plot follows Dennis (Timothy Olyphant), an aspiring photographer, through six months as he makes some life decisions. Dennis makes his living money in a gay restaurant known as The Jack of Broken Hearts, run by the aging Jack (John Mahoney), a sort of surrogate Auntie Mame to Dennis and his friends. Jack persuades them all to be part of his restaurant's softball team in the West Hollywood community league and, as we see them emulate the Bad News Bears, we learn about their lives, loves, and losses. 

Besides Dennis, there's his housemate Cole (Dean Cain), an aspiring actor who always seems to have it together; Howie (Matt McGrath), a whiny little neurotic who has an on again / off again relationship with Marshall (Justin Theroux); Benji (Zach Braff), who's always looking for love in all the wrong places; the recently dumped Taylor (Billy Porter), a Black man constantly doing a cross between Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen; the morose Patrick (Ben Weber), who has a lesbian sister (Mary McCormack) with a lover he despises (Nia Long) who desperately want him to help with having a child; and Kevin (Andrew Keegan), new to the gay community and learning what it means to forge a relationship with another man. The guys fall in and out of love, cope with sudden death, illness, and revel in the human condition, all the while trading fabulously catty one-liners. It's a lot like the girls of Steel Magnolias starring in a dinner theater production of The Women. 

This doesn't mean that the film's not enjoyable. I found it a lot of fun, if a little on the clich√© side, and much shallower than it thinks it is. The intent of the film is to show that the lives and loves of young gay men aren't all that different than those of young straight couples and it does do that job rather well. Many heterosexuals may be surprised to see their own dating and relationship patterns on display in a different social context. However, the film is scared of delving too deep into these characters' psyches for fear of losing its comic tone. It touches on many serious issues but always pulls back before the truly interesting ideas are explored. Fatherhood exists as a comic plot device. A drug problem is dispensed with quicker than a Pez from a piece of plastic. The one truly lasting, loving relationship in the film is trivialized as a color scheme and we never get to know one of the partner's involved. 

On the other hand, there's some good comic stuff being delivered by a talented ensemble cast. Timothy Olyphant, who made his name playing edgy post-adolescents in Scream 2 and Go shows a remarkable range in his soft and sensitive Dennis. His compatriots are able to create human moments with quick character sketches and obviously relish their turns with the zippy one-liners that Berlanti has written for them. There's even some great cameo appearances. Jennifer Coolidge, for instance, steals a sequence as a burnt out hairdresser. 

The DVD contains the film in a good picture and sound transfer. There is a commentary track featuring Berlanti and Mickey Lidell, producer. Their comments on the talent and the gonzo low-budget film making process are illuminating. There are a number of cut scenes, none of which would have added to the film, but which make some of the secondary characters a bit richer. There's the usual talent biographies and trailers for other features. 

Cappuccino sipping. Vermillion pants. Uneaten birthday cake. John Mahoney in frumpy wig. Gratuitous Kerr Smith. Walker in the outfield. Multiple necklaces. Disco dancing. Gratuitous Michael Bergin. Hawaiian shirt wake.

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