An American Playhouse production, LONGTIME COMPANION is one of the few mainstream feature films to deal directly and seriously with the subject of AIDS and its specific impact on the gay community. As such, its intentions and message are largely unimpeachable. Artistically, however, it
leaves something to be desired.
The film opens on July 3, 1981, the day the New York Times first reported of the existence of a "cancer" that was killing off a number of homosexual men. The news is shared in Manhattan and Fire Island by a group of six men and a woman, all linked to each other in various ways. It ends eight years
later, with the devastating prophecy of the news item fulfilled. AIDS has taken its toll on victims and survivors. The early and later scenes contrast markedly--the invincibly youthful, hedonistic pleasure of dancing and drugging at summer discos has been replaced by fear and an endless round of
memorial services, doctor's appointments, and volunteer work. The film's surviving friends can only hope to see the day when a cure is found.
The serious presentation of terminal illness is always problematical on the screen. Filmmakers must simultaneously educate, move, and, yes, entertain the audience by achieving a highly delicate balance. LONGTIME COMPANION is distinguished by some good, sincere acting, but unfortunately, as written
by Craig Lucas and directed by Norman Rene, it falls too often into soap opera and the cliches implicit in such undertakings. The protagonists are uniformly white and upper-class, possessed of such appealing vocations as health club manager (Campbell Scott), the heir to wealth (Bruce Davison),
entertainment lawyer (Stephen Caffrey), soap-opera writer (Mark Lamos), and successful actor (Patrick Cassidy), the last three being conveniently and rather simplistically connected. The only minority characters (both male) are stereotypes: an understanding black housekeeper who cleans up the
emotional and physical messes of his employers, and a bitchy Hispanic PWA (Person With AIDS) who refuses to cope with his illness in the blandly noble way of the main protagonists. (He is put straight by one of them, though.) There are also the now almost-requisite scenes of men warily feeling
their lymph glands, searching for clues, and lying fearfully awake at night. On the other hand, the film's treatment of New Age advocates' holistic remedies just borders on satire.
In the film PARTING GLANCES, Steve Buscemi played a PWA who was a true original--scabrously witty and poignant, and, to date, the best filmed handling of the subject. LONGTIME COMPANION, by contrast, although it (barely) manages to avoid the out-and-out mawkishness of such television productions
as "An Early Frost" and Terence McNally's more recent "Andre's Mother," never really seems to pierce the emotional surface of its characters. It all seems too dramatically tidy. These well-heeled men are antiseptically upright and forebearing as they face illness and death, and the movie's
ending--a fantasy sequence in which the dead return to reunite the living--is an idea that was perhaps best left on writer Lucas' personal computer screen. Through the years covered, certain characters don't seem to change or develop so much as grow or shave off facial hair. The efforts at humor
are heavy-handed, sharing that in-joke glibness that made Lucas' BLUE WINDOW so discomfiting at times. (You may laugh, but self-consciously, and only because the actors seem to be having such an uproarious time.) These include a recollection of a deceased friend's drag antics at his sister's
wedding, the lawyer's suddenly breaking into a lip-synced song from Michael Bennett's "Dreamgirls," and a scene in which a string ensemble dolefully plays the Village People's 70s anthem "YMCA" at a benefit. Another flaw is the cliched character of Lisa (Mary-Louise Parker): benevolent
heterosexual Earth Mother to the guys, who doles out healing portions of support and humor, the first to do volunteer work, blessed with an understanding boy friend.
Davison is a standout in the cast (he earned an Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination), giving a simple, affecting performance. The scene in which he must deal with his dying lover, Sean (Lamos), and Sean's producer over the phone is excruciatingly, nerve-wrackingly funny and sad, and the film's
best moment. Davison is beautifully focused, as well, in a later death scene. The other actors fill their roles capably and, for the most part, attractively. Dermot Mulroney is especially effective and touching as an archetypal party boy, the first to die.
At a budget of under $2 million, the film looks good and has been capably photographed by Tony Jannelli. The film makes striking use of popular songs like Debbie Harry's "The Tide Is High" and the late Sylvester's "Do You Wanna Funk" to capture the dizzying high of the pre-AIDS years, but a
depressingly middle-of-the-road jazz score by Lia Vollack is obtrusive. (Sexual situations, adult situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: NR
- Review: An American Playhouse production, LONGTIME COMPANION is one of the few mainstream feature films to deal directly and seriously with the subject of AIDS and its specific impact on the gay community. As such, its intentions and message are largely unimpeacha… (more)