How do you put patrician John Hurt and one-time 90210 hunk Jason Priestly in the same movie? And once in that movie, how do you get them to play to their strengths, which in Hurt’s case is lightly-pebbled irony, in Priestly’s a kind of genuine doe-eyed naiveté? Londoner Richard Kwietniowski solved the riddle by mixing old-school homosexuality and 1990s faux-modern into a blender and emerging with this arresting little work.
Meet writer and critic Giles De’Ath (Hurt), a London widower who lives in a locked-down London flat attended to only by a middle-aged housekeeper, whom he regards formally. He’s prim, aloof, laconic, unhappy with telephones, a one-man 19th century buried in an otherwise modern city. On a rainy London day, De’Ath reluctantly takes refuge in a West End cinema. He thinks he’s picked out a movie based on an E.M. Forster novel. Instead, he gets “Hot Pants College II,” a Cancun-style spring break romp featuring boys and their would-be toys. “This isn’t E.M. Forster,” he hisses. De’Ath, whose revulsion is practiced if not professional, gets up to leave when he’s struck down by a Maid Marian moment — a close up of Ronnie Bostock (Priestly), one of the Hot Pants boys.
Kwietniowski’s portrayal of rapture, and Hurt’s, is sublime: it’s love at first sight. Shocked by his passion, De’Ath goes “modern.” He buys a VCR to watch Bostock’s previous films, including (it had to be) “Tex Mex” and “Skidmarks.” Though there’s cliché in having an old fogy meet a mocking video store owner — think American teenager asking a 1950s druggist for condoms — Kwietniowski lets Hurt call the shots. He underplays and probes, ignoring the hazing, like a boy on a romp. He pitches out the housekeeper to watch the videos alone. He buys teen magazines to learn more about Bostock’s likes — they include Axel Rose and Stephen King.
Inevitably, De’Ath flies to New York and treks to Long Island (Kwietniowski could only afford Halifax, but it doesn’t hurt the visuals) in search of his new idol’s holiday home.
This is a movie (from a novel by British critic Gilbert Adair) about homosexual passion that doesn’t need a heavy bat. Da’Ath’s lust is sexual, that’s evident, but orientations are secondary to the thrill of the courtship. Kwietniowski’s genius lies in letting Hurt dictate the action. Da’Ath meets Bostock, who regards him innocently at first. Not so Bostock’s girlfriend Audrey (Fiona Loewi), who’s wise to sexual undercurrents. Audrey and Da’Ath dance around one another like delicate predators.
The movie succeeds because its basic instinct is universal: to level the human playing field. Da’Ath is a remote and aloof figure, until he falls in love. Bostock is just a B-grade actor who can’t understand the fuss, until he’s introduced to the incomprehensible strangeness of his visitor. Early on, Da’Ath, taking a swipe at computers, says, “I’m a writer — I don’t process words.” Here’s an exquisite little fable about words, wants, and misunderstandings.