Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney
rozk

LOVE AND OTHER DISASTERS

I suppose that one of the first things that has to be said is that there are some films which, irrespective of their merits, are ideal fluff for the first night of London's Lesbian and Gay Film Festivals. Elsewhere the programme may be full of angst and persecution and imprisonment, of broken hears and domestic violence and death in the Epidemic, but the first night has to be cheerful. Love and Other Disasters fits that particular bill - even those people who hated it were remarkably cheerful about the fact that they hated it when I talked to them at the party afterwards. And about half of my friends were entirely happy with it...I, being the awkward soul that I am, found myself poised between the two camps.

One of the surprising things about the film is that it is a rom com about what used, rather offensively, to be called a fag hag - fashion stylist Jacks has moderately disastrous sexual relationships with straight men and lives vicariously through trying to find a boyfriend for her journalist flatmate Peter. He, we gradually realize, is the narrator implied by the occasional screenplay place tags and shot indications that appear on the screen. Peter has fallen in love with a man glimpsed briefly in a hotel lobby and his friends are trying to hook them up; Jacks has the fallback plan of hitching him up with a talented Argentinian photographer she has taken under her wing. Except, of course, that Peter has misidentified the man in the hotel, and the Argentinian is not, in fact, gay, and has fallen in love with Jacks. Very mild hilarity and wackiness ensue - perhaps the best joke is when Peter sells it all as a screenplay and we see the reunion of Jacks and Paolo as played by Gwyneth Paltrow and Orlando Bloom.

This is a comedy which elbows us in the ribs about its debts - it endlessly references both Breakfast at Tiffany's and Notting Hill. And this is not always a good idea - just as Notting Hill showed us a Portobello Road without ethnic minorities, Love and Other Disasters is a film about gay men in which they manage to have remarkably little sex, or snoggage, or anything much more than decorous angst and apologies. As is reasonably well-known, the novel Breakfast at Tiffany's was written about the proto-transwomen drag queens Capote was hanging with, whatever the text says, and however totally this is obscured by the charm of the Audrey Hepburn film. With that precedent, the way Alek Keshkishian has written Jacks as an adorable klutz ought to be a little worrying.

The fact that it is not is less a tribute to tact and skill on the part of Keshkishian than it is to the brilliant and delightful performance by Brittany Murphy. Ever since Clueless Murphy has been turning in sterling performances in a variety of roles, many of them comic, and it is good to see her taking the chance to star, and the chance to shine, with both hands. The superficial silliness of Jacks' behaviour becomes the top level of what starts to look like a deep-seated wisdom - she puts other people first, however clumsily, and ends up doing rather well out of it. Murphy's performance adds layers of subtlety to the character that were perhaps implicit in the script but less likely to be planned. Keshkishian's writing of women is generally broad - Jacks' best friend Tallulah (Catherine Tate) is a boozy nightmare caricature, if an entertaining one.

The film's other weakness is that some of the minor characters are less effectively cast. Tate at least gives a performance, even if it is a little bit more like a comic turn than something nuanced. Santiago Cabrera as Paolo is little more than a mildly attractive plank of wood while Dawn French as a comic fantasy therapist is given terrible lines and manages to deliver them in a way that makes them worse. Brittany Murphy, and to a lesser extent, Matthew Rhys save the film from these less than stellar efforts and somehow manage to turn a mediocre script, middling direction and terrible performances by other people, into something that convinced most of the audience, for a few hours, that it was gold.
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