The movie is based on the life story of a well known gay architect, Harry Stein, with the names and specifics changed a bit for legal reasons. In the movie, Eric Roberts plays the lead, Nick Stark and Gregory Harrison plays his lover, Brandon Theis. The two are long time lovers until Nick develops AIDS. At that point, Brandon freaks out and starts distancing himself from Nick for obvious reasons. At the time, contracting AIDS meant you'd be dead in a short time. Since then, medical advances have helped lengthen a patient's life but the impact back then meant you'd be shunned by many, if not most, of your friends and family. If you were gay, you'd most likely have had a number of friends that had succumbed to the disease.
As the disease progressed, Nick started exhibiting symptoms in a true_to_life form more than the usual all_at_once fashion some directors use to expedite the plot. Nick makes the decision, after watching various friends die lingering, horrible deaths, to end his life after throwing a big farewell party for himself. While I'm not a fan of the Dr. Kevorkian school of medicine, it's understandable that a man would want to die with some dignity or at least on his own terms. The party gives Nick an excuse to get together with his friends and family, some of whom have never come to grips with his lifestyle. It also gives Nick and Brandon a chance to reconcile before the ultimate end.
Okay, this was an independent film, made on a shoestring budget, yet it looked like it was made with the same kind of financing you'd see on a Hollywood blockbuster. The commentary track explains how so many of the cast worked for scale (i.e.: much, much lower than their usual rates) and how cooperative various entities were in getting the movie made. But looking good doesn't really tell you if the movie "was" good. In this case, the movie was excellent, rather than good.
The biggest reason for the quality of the movie can be debated as relating to either the acting, Roberts providing a performance of a lifetime, or maybe the fact that the director was also the writer and producer with firsthand knowledge of his friend's death. Unlike a movie made to pay the rent, this was obviously a labor of love for all those involved and it shows. Yeah, it's a bit of a downer but the loss of a creative genius, and a great friend, is a downer no matter how you look at it.
The acting was very solid in almost every case (Margaret Cho could've phoned in her role) but the supporting cast was really only window dressing for Roberts. His levels of complexity varied as needed, from flippant to dead serious to impulsive, but aside from Harrison, the only other performance that broke out from the pack was Bronson Pinchot's character. The cast being a who's who of Hollywood, it's surprising that such celebrities were able to set aside their egos to accept smaller roles.
In general, the chemistry between the performers, tied in with the story itself, and the rest of the aspects here, elevated this one above a hackneyed movie full of clichés. Yes, it's a tear jerker and provided exactly what you'd expect from one but it goes the extra mile and knits it all together in believable fashion. There were moments that'd serve as the basis for individual movies on their own so perhaps the missed opportunities bothered me a bit, just as some of the characters getting shorted on screen time (you can't always say you'd want "more" of the secondary performances in a movie) but aside from that and the overuse of flashbacks, this was a good movie. Based on it's merits, I'm suggesting this as Highly Recommended.
Picture: The picture was presented in anamorphic widescreen with a ratio of 1.85:1. It was very crisp and clear, light-years ahead of most independent films, with accurate fleshtones and true black with no bleeding that I saw in repeated viewings. The dvd transfer was well done as well and I don't think I saw but a single compression artifact.
Sound: The sound was presented with a choice of either 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround English, French, or Spanish stereo with optional English, Spanish, or French subtitles (and closed captions for those so equipped). The vocals and music were very clear as well with a great soundtrack.
Extras: You'd think with such a low budget release, there'd be no extras, right? Well, you'd be wrong. The best extra for me was the audio commentary with Director Randal Kleiser, Eric Roberts, Gregory Harrison, Greg Hinton and Joel Thurm. It detailed as much about the life of the lead the story was based on as it did the filming particulars and loads of related anecdotes. Very well done on all levels and helped make the already personal story even more heartwarming. The next best extra was the bunch of deleted scenes-many of them very well done-that added to the movie. The behind the scenes feature for "The Kiss" and the Harry Stein's House: Research Tape were okay as were the short on Basil Poledouris's score, the photogallery and trailer.
Final Thoughts: If you have any interest in seeing a down to earth story about a man coming to terms with his own mortality, with all the eccentricities you'd find in a creative person's way of life, I'd suggest you check this one out. If you're looking for a light, breezy date movie, this probably won't be a good choice. In all, it was a thought provoker as much as a tear jerker and I suggest it as Highly Recommended.