Saturday, October 15, 2005

FILM: Dorian Blues

Based on some of the online reviews I had read of Dorian Blues, we were really looking forward to seeing it. It had played last year at a number of gay and lesbian film festivals, and people who had seen it there had written some enthusiastic reviews. Written and directed by Tennyson Bardwell (his first outing, pardon the pun), this is a coming-out story, and the reviews promised that it was very fresh (even though the genre is, shall we say, well trod). Well, now that we've seen the film ourselves, I have to wonder if those people who posted the great reviews were all just friends of the debutant director. Not that the movie was bad. It was okay. We were mildly amused and entertained, if not deeply moved or laughing volubly. It certainly had some good parts. Michael MacMillian, who plays the lead, is certainly a talented comic actor. (The physical comedy of Dorian at his therapist's office practicing coming out to his father using a mannequin was quite amusing.) And there was some potential in the material for some real exploration of family relationships, especially the unwitting influence of fathers and brothers. But we really only saw that in the last two minutes, which were very good, and maybe one or two other scattered glimpses. (Those last two minutes were bittersweet, in that they underscored what the film could have been.)

The film was just very uneven, and I think the fundamental problem is that the director couldn't make up his mind what sort of film he wanted to make. Sometimes it was a misty sepia-toned semi-nostalgic attitude (think The Wonder Years), while other times it was sardonic and not taking itself seriously (think That 70's Show). There were moments of real emotion, but just when the audience might get engaged with the characters, the film careens to a detached comic tone that pushes us away emotionally. In much of the story, the characters are just cartoons walking from one cliché into another. There is a funny (and well-executed) scene when Dorian tries to talk to his mother, who is practically oblivious to him while claiming to listen. With a more skillful director, this could have fit well as an exaggerated subjective impression, being both funny and poignant at the same time, but Bardwell doesn't pull it off. (It's a difficult balance, but it can certainly be done well. I think of Jeffrey as an example that was laugh-out loud funny, mostly sardonic and detached, charicaturish, and yet at times quite emotional and ultimately engaging.) There's some good raw material, and a few well-crafted scenes, but an inconsistent vision and attitude make the movie fall short of what it could have been.

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