on August 01, 2008 by Ray Greene
Given the ubiquity of gay themes at Sundance this year (even "straight" romantic comedies invariably featured gay sidekick characters), the fact that the unofficial victor in the romantic comedy sweepstakes was "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" seems more than appropriate. A giddy, delightful and heartfelt tribute to the wayward impulses of the heart, "Billy" deserves plaudits for its high level of wit, stylistic ambition, and ability to focus on gay relationships with such an acute and humanely observed sense of detail that a narrow and frequently ghettoized genre takes on a universal feel. Acquiring distributor Trimark has something unique on its hands with this one: perhaps the first gay-themed romance ever created that can make general audiences stand up and cheer.
Billy (Sean P. Hayes) is an aspiring photographer on a quest for love in celebrity-mad L.A. About to set to work on a series of homoerotic tribute photos based on great Hollywood screen kisses, he meets Gabriel (Brad Rowe), a sexually confused coffee house waiter whom he engages as a model. Before long, Billy's mentoring friendship becomes an infatuation, but it's complicated by his respect for Gabriel's struggle to identify his true sexuality, coupled with a morbid fear that his interest, as it has so often in the past, will go unreciprocated.
Writ er/director Tommy O'Haver's command of filmmaking is the most impressive facet of "Billy's" manifold pleasures. Though shot on a shoestring, Haver has had both the chutzpah to photograph "Billy" with the David Lean-ish aspect ratio of anamorphic cinemascope and the talent to pull his stunt off. Carefully controlled primary color schemes and that wide, wide image give "Billy" the feel of an old '60s-era Rock Hudson/Doris Day sex comedy, a standard for humor which O'Haver's giddy comedic sensibility frequently surpasses.
But the heart of "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" is in its characterizations, and on that level, O'Haver bears favorable comparison to prime Woody Allen. Hayes' beautifully modulated performance as Billy strikes just the right note of good-humored hang-dog anguish, while despite his distracting physical similarities to Brad Pitt, Rowe is touchingly effective and utterly believable as the object of Billy's misplaced affections.
With "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," the fertile and prolific gay cinema renaissance of the '90s shows every sign of having come of age. Even the kind of person who avoids gay product as being too "inside" will find a great deal to love about "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss." Starring Sean P. Hayes, Brad Rowe and Richard Ganoung. Written and directed by Tommy O'Haver. Produced by David Moseley. A Trimark release. Comedy. Rated R for language, some sexuality and drug content. Running time: 89 min.
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