Synopsis: Steven Weber stars as Jeffrey in this adaptation of Paul Rudnick’s witty stage play about the New York gay experience in the HIV era. Distressed by the AIDS epidemic, Jeffrey decides to swear a vow of celibacy. No sooner does he take the oath than he meets Steve, a handsome, charming dreamboat who could be the love of his life, but who is also HIV-positive. Jeffrey’s fantasies and anxieties are hilariously played out with the support of an all-star cast that includes Sigourney Weaver, Christine Baranski, Kathy Najimi, Nathan Lane, Olympia Dukakis, Bryan Batt and in a brilliant casting twist, Patrick Stewart (as an interior decorator who is both Jeffrey’s confidant and soundest advisor).
eyelights: Patrick Stewart. its zany humour. its approach on AIDS.
eyesores: its mildly lacklustre performances. its less lively third act.
“This used to be so much fun.”
Can you imagine a comedy about AIDS? Seriously, a comedy? I know that it can be hard to imagine given just how devastating AIDS has been. But ‘Jeffrey’ is likely the first and only one to have pulled it off.
Released in 1995, it tells the story of Jeffrey as he tries to deal with the repercussions of this deadly virus on the gay community: First they introduced condoms, then test results, then sexless encounters…
ARGH! It got to be too much!
Growing more and more anxious about the risks of sexual contact, Jeffrey feels that sex is no longer fun. So he decides that he will no longer have sex. Ever. Instead, he will take up hobbies and focus on those.
And that’s when he meets Steve at the gym.
And Steve is HOT. Not only that, he’s interested. And he makes no bones of it, either: he’s extremely flirtatious with Jeffrey. So what is Jeffrey to do? Have awesome sex with a hottie or play it safe?
I don’t remember why I first picked up ‘Jeffrey’, back in the good old days of laserdisc, but it’s a movie that I immediately fell in love with: I thought it was topical, yet funny, and well cast.
It was probably also the first gay-focused film that I’d ever seen. Or, at the very least, it was the first one to make a lasting impression on me. It was so much fun that it overrode any discomfort I felt.
In fact, it even poked fun at it: As Steve kisses Jeffrey for the first time, the film then cuts to two teenage couples in a cinema, reacting to it: the guys are grossed out while the girls find it sweet.
It put things in perspective for me and helped defuse the scene.
The picture is delightfully campy at times – not so much that it’s offputting, just enough so that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Case-in-point, a scene in which Jeffrey calls home for parental advice.
This scene alone is worth the price of admission as it finds both the mom and dad trying so hard (in split-screen, of course) to be supportive of their gay son. In fact, they’re maybe a little too eager.
He also seeks advice from his best friends, Sterling and Darius. Darius actually has AIDS but the pair has been together for years – so they’re not as concerned as he is, and even set up a blind date with Steve.
This is where one of the film’s greatest casting coups comes in: Sterling is played by Patrick Stewart, who was then hot off of ‘Star Trek: TNG’. He is BRILLIANTLY dignified as this classy gay decorator.
And he’s funny, too: There’s a scene when he’s in his Pink Panthers t-shirt and beret, patrolling the streets for gay bashers, and he totally loses his shit when he hears of a hottie just around the corner.
Classic! It’s a must-see scene.
Another great cameo is Sigourney Weaver as a renowned motivational speaker whom Jeffrey goes to see. When he gets the chance to pose her a few questions, she really tells it like she sees it. She doesn’t mess about!
The film is peppered with all sorts of hilarious bit, including another when he turns to confession, but gets hit on by the priest (Nathan Lane) or a recurring gag where “Mother Teresa” silently comes to his assistance.
It’s not all fun and games, obviously, as AIDS is not entirely a laughing matter, but much of the heaviness is offset by the message embedded in Paul Rudnick’s screenplay: “Hate AIDS, Jeffrey, not life.”
‘Jeffrey’ is a bit dated now, but it was pretty bold for 1994, and I think it still plays really well now. It tackle the unspeakable by putting a spotlight on it, dressing it in a bowtie and a funny hat.
And laughing at it.
To this day, I don’t think I’ve seen another movie that tackles such an unfunny subject as AIDS in such a humourous yet tasteful fashion. Well, ‘Wit’ dealt with cancer with class and a fine, dry humour, I suppose.
Still, there’s only one ‘Jeffrey’.
Date of viewing: April 14, 2016