Friday July 24, 1998
Tommy O'Haver's "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" is a giddy yet wise romantic comedy about a self-absorbed young gay photographer from Indiana who has come to L.A. in search of love and success. Sean P. Hayes' boyish Billy loves old Hollywood movies, particularly women's melodramas, and O'Haver makes his film a witty homage to vintage screen romance while keeping its perspective on the here and now.
The film's title comes from Billy's dream project, which is to re-create famous film love scenes with drag queens playing the female roles--why he wants to do this is none too clear.
Billy is feeling mighty sorry for himself, unhappy at having to share his hunky lover (Armando Valdes-Kennedy) with another man and frustrated in his career, when Gabriel (Brad Rowe), a handsome coffee shop waiter, comes into view. Billy is transfixed and hesitantly begins his pursuit. It's a very old story: Gabriel has charm to go with his looks, he seems a nice guy, and he's tantalizingly uncertain as to his sexual orientation. "Billy" has a fantasy look, but its payoff is refreshingly anchored to reality.
Hayes and especially Rowe, in the more opaque and therefore more intriguing role, reveal that they are actors of considerable range and ability, but O'Haver's chief accomplishment is how he has managed to make the most of what is surely a decidedly modest budget. His camera moves only slightly more frequently than that of Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, yet his visual resources seem endless. A drag trio lip-syncing and dancing to old pop songs bridge sequences as well as express themes and moods; collages of Polaroid Instamatic photos work as flashbacks; and a bold sense of color and a flair for pastiche create a distinctive style for the picture, which celebrates an exuberant gay sensibility.
O'Haver's stylized approach yields some static moments, but "Billy" always regains its momentum swiftly. The 29-year-old director, in his feature debut, has had a strong assist from his creative team: cinematographer Mark Mervis, composer Alan Ari Lazar, production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone and costume designer Julia Bartholomew.
By no means are Billy and Gabriel the whole story, and O'Haver surrounds them with a large number of effective characters. Meredith Scott Lynn is Billy's shrewd, caring best buddy but she's not a stereotypical gal pal of a gay man. Richard Ganoung plays an established photographer, a good-looking man a decade or so older than Billy who kindly insists on being Billy's mentor yet does not exploit the fact that he's secretly fallen for the younger man. Paul Bartel, in one of his funniest roles ever, plays a famous, flamboyant photographer, and Carmine D. Giovinazzo is hilarious as a serious doper who attracts Lynn at a moment when she's at odds with her steady (Christopher Bradley).
"Billy" makes some satirical points and tells the truth about the ruthless power of physical beauty in gay life yet wisely does not take itself so seriously that it is unable to live up its maker's own description: "A Tommy O'Haver Trifle."
Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss, 1998. R, for language, some sexuality and drug content. A Trimark release of a Revolutionary Eye production. Writer-director Tommy O'Haver. Producer David Mosley. Co-producers Meredith Scott Lynn and Irene Turner. Cinematographer Mark Mervis. Editor Jeff Betancourt. Costumes Julia Bartholomew. Music Alan Ari Lazar. Production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Sean P. Hayes as Billy. Brad Rowe as Gabriel. Richard Ganoung as Perry. Meredith Scott Lynn as Georgianna. Paul Bartel as Rex Webster.