"Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel" could stand as a textbook example of how not to bring a play to the screen. There are some funny moments and a well-sustained sequence of raw emotion that suggests what might have been, but the ingenuity required to make this semiautobiographical play work as a film, produced on a shoestring budget, is beyond the ability of director Julia Jay Pierrepont III.
The film is narrated from a pearly-white purgatory-like cocoon by actor-writer Leslie Jordan, who recounts growing up gay in the Deep South in an ultra-religious family. His alter ego, the Storyteller, was conditioned to regard himself with such shame that he didn't leave home until age 38. He apparently then took off for Atlanta sometime in the '70s, adopted Elton John as his model for attire and plunged headlong into a life of hard partying, tripping around on platform shoes and tripping out on drugs and booze. He also would seem to aspire to be a writer along Truman Capote/Tennessee Williams lines.
He swiftly finds a fast-lane companion in a rebellious debutante who calls herself Miss Make Do (Erin Chandler). She swaths herself in gaudy outfits, and turns tricks or go-go dances when money for drugs and shelter starts running low, which is virtually all the time.. In this disco world, Jordan, a diminutive man who sounds like Capote and, alas, looks years older than 38, lives it up but, not surprisingly, isn't finding love or sex. However, when Miss Make Do is swept up by evil lounge lizard Niko (Carlos Gomez), who has a thing for enslaving his women with cocaine, the Storyteller focuses his attention on street hustler Tripper (Mark Pellegrino), who's deep into drugs and supporting his habit not only with his own body, but those of underage boys he pimps.
The Storyteller wants to take care of Tripper, who of course proclaims how straight he is. But Tripper finally loses his cool because after three months the Storyteller has never made a pass at him.
What's happening here is a doomed love story. The Storyteller wants neither rejection nor to be merely another of Tripper's johns; for Tripper, who knows exactly what bad news he is, it's becoming too late for sex or love. . When feelings of love finally surface, Pierrepont for once is on target and allows the scene to play out. Jordan's writing is at its best here, and so is his acting and also that of Pellegrino, who proves to be a strong, focused actor who makes Tripper more than a gay fantasy archetype.
Nothing that happens between Miss Make Do and Niko has anything near this resonance. Gomez works up considerable menace, but Chandler, through no fault of her own, has a tough time making Miss Make Do seem anything but a caricature.
"Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel" has much that tries for outrageous camp, but too much of it plays like a crude travesty of overly familiar Southern decadence. It needed a director who knows how to stylize intense theatricality rather than merely revel in it in wobbly fashion. . John Ritter, Marilu Henner, Michelle Phillips, Kathy Kinney and Sheryl Lee Ralph appear in cameos to varying effect. It's possible to imagine that Jordan might well have had considerable effect on stage, but this screen version is fluctuating and uneven.
Cinematographer Sacha Sarchielli is strongest in the film's noirish mode, and production designer Cecil Gentry's settings have a consistently knowing kitschy tackiness and flair that become "Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel's" key strength.
Unrated. Times guidelines: strong language, lots of drugs and alcohol use. Adult themes.
'Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel'
Erin Chandler...Miss Make Do
Carlos Gomez ...Niko
A Northern Arts Entertainment release. Director Julia Jay Pierrepont III. Screenplay Leslie Jordan; based on his play. Producers Julia Jay Pierrepont III and Erin Chandler. Cinematographer Sacha Sarchielli. Editor Ila von Hasperg. Music Dan Gilboy. Costumes Chantal Thomas. Production designer Cecil Gentry. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.
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