It Could Have Been Great
The message of “Jeffrey”, the popular gay comedy is “Hate AIDS, Love life”. But this wonderful play just did not make it from stage to screen. The jokes are here and some good acting but some reason “Jeffrey” the movie does not sparkle the way “Jeffrey” the off-Broadway smash did. I saw it in New York when Greg Louganis had taken over as Darius and it was a laugh a minute. On the screen it is somewhat of a bore. It seems that what happened is that some of the good humor was replaced by bitchy campy humor and it just didn’t work.
The movie depicts gay men affectionately but it is somewhat clunky. On the stage the characters were larger than life and the whole thing was quite intimate. What didn’t happen is that much should have been scaled down for the screen and wasn’t. What works on the stage does not always work on the screen and the movie adaptation of “The Producers” proves that.
“Jeffrey” is painfully uneven and it hurts the viewer to watch what could have been a spectacular film be just a mediocre one. The movie opens showing Jeffrey (Stephen Weber) as he discovers his love life is withering away because of the AIDS epidemic. He wants to love but he is so afraid of the disease that he swears off sex. Just when he feels that he cannot see another man he meets a good-looking hairy-chested, sweet natured hunk named Steve (Michael T. Weiss) at his gym. Jeffrey is filed with self-doubt. He knows he is ordinary looking with a rather colorless personality and he is afraid of sex. Steve, on the other hand, is great-looking, macho and tender. You begin to wonder why Steve is interested in Jeffrey who is both diffident and retreating. Aside from being HIV positive, Steve is a perfect man.
While Jeffrey and Steve skirmish, we are taken to on a tour of Manhattan gay life. There is a gay pride parade, an AIDS fundraiser and so on. We also meet Sterling, an interior designer (Patrick Stewart) who is hilariously acerbic and his young lover, Darius (Bryan Batt), a chorus boy in “Cats”—“now and forever”, who is slipping in his battle with AIDS.
Weber as Jeffrey has an everyman look about him but he is a nerd whereas Michael T. Weiss has great screen presence but suffers from poor direction.
“Jeffrey” was a ground tester for a comedy about AIDS. As Jeffrey, Weber lives up to his motto that “sex wasn’t meant to be safe or negotiated or fatal”. AIDS has forced him to believe that emotional contact carries the heartbreak of losing someone.
There is no narrative plot line in the film. Rather it is comprised of a series of vignettes which uses Manhattan as a backdrop to explore the adventures of gay men.
It is a charming old-fashioned screwball comedy dealing with the peril of AIDS It has all of the sweetness of traditional Hollywood fare—romance, rapid pacing, stars, sex appeal, great punch lines choreography and even a little tragedy but this is all too much. Its focus on gay characters is incomparable and it is one of the funniest movies made about gay life. It is a shame some of this gets lost in the slick production.
There are many laughs and archetypical characters. “Jeffrey” pushes buttons but only gets them halfway in. Nevertheless half is better than nothing at all.