KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
Bedrooms and Hallways (First Run Features, 1999)
Directed by Rose Troche
Screenplay by Robert Farrar
Starring Kevin McKidd, Hugo Weaving, Simon Callow, Tom Hollander, James Purefoy, Julie Graham, Jennifer Ehle
Unrated, 96 minutes
Bedrooms and Hallways is a delightful romp, directed by Rose Troche, in which sex and gender roles are overturned and people find passion in the strangest places.
Leo and Darren are flatmates with different ideas about the ideal man. Leo, about to turn 30, fears falling in love with a straight guy. Darren wants to curb his sexual appetite but winds up dating Jeffrey, a conservative real estate agent with a fetish for having impromptu sex (except when the decor is tacky) in the homes that he is selling while the owners are away. The sex is hot but Darren soon complains that he and Jeffrey have never gone out on a "proper" date.
Leo is invited by a straight friend to join his New Age men's group. It is run by Keith (our own Simon Callow), a noble but misguided moderator who is trying to help his group find their "inner male-ness." The antics of Keith's group provide much comic fodder as these supposedly manly men are very touchy-feely, and almost feminine in their support for each other. Keith's wife, Sibyl, runs a similar group for women and they often argue about who gets to use the Zen Room.
Leo shakes things up when it's his turn to hold the "honesty stone" and he admits that he desires Brendan, the group's hunkiest member. Soon after, another member named Terry divulges that he too is gay, and that after Leo's admission he went home, bought a men's magazine and "had a wank." This leads to sexual tension in the group; Keith is fascinated by this other form of expressing the "inner male," while another complains that he's no longer comfortable in the sauna.
Brendan, flattered by Leo's confession, invites Leo out for a Guinness. Brendan has just broken up with his girlfriend, and soon happily bottoms for his new mate. The problem is that Brendan sees it as fun sex without commitment while Leo is falling in love. Meanwhile, Terry is jealous of Leo and Brendan. Complicating matters even further is the sudden arrival of Brendan's ex - who turns out to be Leo's adolescent sweetheart. Predictably, she is still in love with him.
This is a hilarious film in which all preconceived notions of sexuality are turned upside down. It is also a film that bothered some gay audiences because of the casual way it deals with the theme of bisexuality. The idea of fluid sexuality is usually taboo in queer films, and this was one of the first to explore it. Discussing this further would give away the entire movie. Let's just say that if you disagree with certain plot developments, it's best to remember Darren's closing line, "It's just a phase."
But this is a farce with the wit of a Noel Coward play crossed with some free-wheeling iconoclasm ala Joe Orton. Or perhaps an episode of Friends where Joey and Chandler do have sex. Directed by a lesbian, Bedrooms and Hallways is a very insightful look at the foibles and idiosyncrasies of male sexuality. Sibyl perhaps sums it up best when she watches Brendan and Terry argue over Leo and says "Those two don't want to fight, they want to fuck." The screenplay by Robert Farrar is sharp and filled with great one-liners. My favorite was Leo being told to "put some compost on your face. Straight men love that."
Director Rose Troche's first film was the low budget but excellent lesbian drama, Go Fish (she has since gone on to be a producer and director of The L Word), and it's easy to see why she was drawn to the controversial sexual politics of Bedrooms and Hallways. Troche expertly handles both the large cast and the complicated storylines. She also gets to have a little visual fun with the dream sequences. The best is a circling camera pan as Leo and Brendan kiss, the kind Hitchcock was famous for, except that all of the furniture keeps getting in the way of the camera.
Though the film is British, it isn't packed with cultural references that will be alien to Americans, like, for example, the original Queer as Folk. One that I did find quite amusing was how several characters would read Margaret Thatcher's biography when they wanted to stop thinking about sex.
The cast is pitch perfect, and many big name actors contributed their talents. Simon Callow (Amadeus, A Room With A View and Four Weddings and a Funeral) is deliciously deadpan as Keith. Hugo Weaving, who has played roles as varied as a drag queen in The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, Agent Smith in The Matrix and Elrond in The Lord of the Rings, is a hoot as the sex-obsessed real estate agent.
Bedrooms and Hallways can be purchased as part of a three DVD set called Passionate Gay Classics. The other two films in the set are the excellent Parting Glances, (1986), which I have reviewed in the past and still consider one of the top five gay films, and a so-so 1994 comedy about a man being haunted by his deceased lover's ghost called To Die For (original title, Heaven's A Drag). All three are well known titles; two are superb, one is forgettable, but the price is right. by Michael D. Klemm Additional DVD/Film reviews:
9 Dead Gay Guys (TLA Video, 2003)
Ben and Arthur (Ariztical Entertainment Group) 2004
Relax... Itís Just Sex (1998)
Before Stonewall (1985)
Die Mommie Die (2003)
The Einstein of Sex (TLA Releasing, 1999)
Camp (IFC films) 2003
Another Country (BBC Video) 1984