Friday, March 18, 2011

Philadelphia still works for me

for two reasons. The first of which addresses the undeniably emotionally overwrought and melodramatic style and content. At first, I was thrown off by the odd camera angles and the strange lead-in, and I was wondering why it was being filmed like a fable. But then I got it: it's an opera in prose, complete with love, death, villainy, redemption, the whole bit. And, as Rent and Angels and America concur, AIDS is a particularly operatic illness, much like TB was. It takes beautiful young people and rapidly and mercilessly ravages them seemingly with no rhyme or reason. Because that's its genre, I think it's allowed to be a little two-dimensional in its characterization and plot.

The other reason is that it's a movie about discrimination and hate as much as it is about disease. And, though we've made remarkable, almost miraculous, strides forward in how we treat AIDS, we still have big problems with how we treat gay people, as evidenced by the anti-gay slurs the movie features still being parroted by morons the country over nearly twenty years later. And sympathetic and human gay characters that transcend the "sassy gay friend" stereotype aren't exactly overrepresented in mainstream entertainment. I don't think this movie is perfect in its representation of homosexual relationships or what it means to be gay in America, but it didn't pander either.

And though Hanks was good, and I think the unblinking focus on his deteriorating body was much needed at the time, I think Denzel had the harder job, actually, in playing his character's homophobia as simulateously central to his self-conception as a man and remarkably ill-defined and clumsily articulated. He's drawn to Andy almost against his will, resists any emotional connection mightily, and only tenuously jettisons his discomfort at the very end. I'm not sure the movie knew what to do with the relationship between these two men, but I think the movie is posing the question in an honest way, and it's one that probably still needs some exploration. If we took out the AIDS, how would a friendship between these two men operate? Nat, can you think of a movie that seriously handles the development and maintenance of a friendship between a gay man and a straight man?

Also, as an aside, I will never get tired of delighting in early 90's technology.


  1. The friendship question is a fantastic one. Without the AIDS consideration, I don't think those two men would have become friends. Denzel's character didn't even know his wife knew gay people much less had gay relatives or hired a gay man to work on their kitchen. And it seems to be Hank's mortality and the love in his life that movies Denzel to realize that this guy is just a guy, too. If Hanks weren't dying, I don't know if Denzel would be able to humanize him.

    I can't think of another film that considers a friendship between a gay man and a straight man which is sad. When I was googling to see if I could find anything that rang any bells I found this article from 2007 and I wonder if it still holds:

  2. I agree. Denzel's moment of physical tenderness at the end does not happen if Hanks isn't dying. Which is sad and distressing but honest, I think.

    I feel like at the edge of my head there's some movie, an Apatow-esque one, I even think, when one of the circle of dudes is gay but I cannot place it. Does it happen on TV? I never watched Will and Grace but I don't think Stanford or Anthony on Sex and the City had straight male friends. This is a problem.

  3. And, good for the movie for being that honest. I don't think the film would have worked had Denzel suddenly been ok with everything at the law library, for example.

    In I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd's brother is gay but that's the only one I can think of. Will and Grace played on the fabulous gay friend to a woman stereotype but I don't remember either of the gay men having straight friends. I didn't really watch SatC. Um . . . . well, Kurt and Finn on Glee were dealing with that relationship but in high school and as step-brothers. Layfayette doesn't have particularly close male friends on True Blood (that we see). Oh--I *think* Jack on Dawson's Creek had straight male friends in either Dawson or Pacey (or both) but, again, high school and his homosexuality was revealed post-friendship forming. But, no, I can't think of an adult male friendship on TV.

    This is where it would be helpful if we watched soap operas--they actually seem to have broken these boundaries early.

  4. NF thought of As Good As It Gets, but even then, the friendship wouldn't have happened without Kinnear getting the shit kicked out of him.

  5. Yeah. I'd like one where they were just friends and the straight guy wasn't treating the gay guy like a damsel in distress.