Saturday Night At The Movies: Jeffrey / To Wong Foo…

I’m gonna start this way.
Remember in Who Framed Roger Rabbit when Jessica Rabbit told Eddie Valiant : “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.” Well, both of the following movies had predictable plots. You could see plot turns from a mile away. However, they weren’t bad. They were just written the way they were written. Well, given that proviso, I present my opinions as follows.


Jeffrey
3 stars
(Add a star if you like getting exasperated.)

This movie is a veritable cameo fest, but that’s not what makes it enjoyable. What makes it enjoyable is the wonderful acting of Patrick Stewart, Michael T. Weiss, and Steven Weber in the lead role as Jeffrey. That aside, there is a cornucopia of cameo appearances by a variety of people that you’re sure to recognize.

Jeffrey is an actor/waiter in New York City who’s gone thru, by his own admission, about 5000 prior liaisons. How’s that for hyperbole. Well, maybe it was a bit much, but right away you can see that Jeffrey is not cut out for sex in the 90′s. Especially gay sex.

Unfortunately for Jeffrey, gay sex in the 90′s means AIDS and it’s driving Jeffrey mad. So, all at once, he decides to give up sex. Of course, as soon as he does, he meets Steve (Weiss). Steve obviously has the hots for Jeffrey and makes his feelings known almost instantly. Jeffrey, however, wants to stick to his decision. So, despite Steve’s pursuit, Jeffrey spurns him at nearly every turn. At one point, Steve (with a little help from his friends) gets Jeffrey to agree to go out with him. At the same time, he lets Jeffrey know that he’s HIV-positive. Resistance turns to avoidance as Jeffrey weedles out of his date.

Jeffrey does all of this despite the advice of his good friend, Sterling. Sterling (Stewart) is an interior decorator…er…designer who’s gleefully living with Darius (Brian Batt), an HIV-positive chorus dancer in CATS. Sterling and Darius have a wonderful relationship; yet, despite this, Jeffrey is still afraid of what dating an HIV-positive man.

The balance of the movie becomes Jeffrey’s journey thru life as he balances his obvious fear of getting AIDS with his lust for Steve. Unfortunately, the journey becomes so tortured that at one point you’re looking for The Golden Ticket (from The Last Action Hero) just to jump up on the screen and slap him. What saves your outing are the marvelous performances by Weber, Weiss, Batt, and especially Stewart. Can you say “Best Supporting Actor”? He probably won’t win, but he should as he gives a delightfully camp performance that shows his tremendous range as an actor.

I don’t wanna be too down on Jeffrey. Despite its manipulative scripting and Jeffrey’s insufferable whining, the screenplay does hold a couple of surprises. So, things may not turn out exactly as you expect.

All in all, Jeffrey is an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours at the movies. It’s funny and poignant and there’s a moral as well.


To Wong Foo: Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar
3½ stars
(Add a half-star if you don’t mind being manipulated.)

All during the summer, in seeing previews, I was worried about To Wong Foo… being an American version or rip-off of Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert. Trust me, there are a lot of similarities; however To Wong Foo… stands on its own as an enjoyable movie experience. In the audience I sat in, there was laughter and applause throughout and I found myself laughing and applauding along. (I hadn’t expected to.)

Patrick Swayze is Vida Boheme, a drag queen from Bala Cynwyd, PA living in New York City. Bala Cynwyd is pivotal in his story. So is Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes). Boheme and Jackson are friends competing against Chi Chi Rodriguez (John Leguizamo) and others for “Drag Queen of the Year”. Well, as luck would have it, Boheme and Jackson tie for the honors and both win an all-expense paid trip to Hollywood.

Well, Boheme is a queen with a heart. She can’t stand to see Chi Chi, who lives in the same building, so upset about not winning the crown; so, Vida bullies Noxeema into trading their paid-for airline tickets for a car and, together, the three set off to drive cross-country. Shades of Boys On The Side.

Early on, the trio is stopped in the middle of nowhere by a county sheriff (Chris Penn in a hoot of a role). What happens next brings more remembrances of Boys On The Side.

Eventually, our fun-loving “females” end up in Snydersville, a small hamlet where everyone seems to have a problem and our girls have a solution for every single one of them. Despite this manipulation, To Wong Foo… delights at every turn. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and not at all subtle. Normally, that would be a criticism, but in this case, it turns out to be a refreshing change of pace.

Of course, all of the elements in the story come together for a smaltzy conclusion. But, that’s OK. You’ll get all wrapped up in it anyway, just like I did. (Boy, was I surprised.)


Closing Comments

Between the two, I have to admit that I enjoyed To Wong Foo… better. Going in, I thought that a small film would do much better than a major studio release. However, they’re really different movies and you shouldn’t have to choose between them. So, don’t. Go out and enjoy them both.

Ciao for now!
Mike

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