The road to IFC is paved with good intentions. 1995 dramedy Jeffrey takes a stab at defining the urban gay lifestyle in the midst of AIDS and self-doubt and at times succeeds, but is hobbled by pretentious gimmicks, amateurish acting and sloppy pacing.
Adapted by Paul Rudnick from his well-regarded play and directed by Christopher Ashley, the film concerns the mental troubles of Jeffrey (Stephen Weber), a New Yorker who's sworn off intimacy for fear of disease and discomfort with safe sex. "Sex is sacred. Sex was never meant to be safe or negotiable or fatal," he says early on, and that confusion leads to his decision to replace sex with working out at the gym. Bad idea. Within moments he's found a hunky new spotter. Steve (Michael T. Weiss) decides right away that he's interested in the skittish Jeffrey and makes a move. Jeffrey runs away, gets hit by a car, and meets Mother Theresa. That's the problem with the film: It constantly flits away into various fantasies, none of which are particularly fantastic and almost all of which are more distracting than truthful. For example, when Steve and Jeffrey share a passionate kiss the film cuts to an audience watching the film, basically to pat itself on the back for being so daring. It's a nudge and a wink but it takes the real audience out of the film. Among the other distractions are a game show sequence and a recurring sex addict meeting.
When the film works it's thanks to the better actors. Patrick Stewart is really terrific as Sterling, Jeffrey's more experienced friend, as is Bryan Batt as Sterling's lover Darius. They add a touch of subtlety and class to a movie that throws everything including the kitchen sink at the screen. At one point Sterling, ever the optimist, describes how Darius is coping with being HIV positive with a wave of the hand and a smile. "It was just a reaction to the AZT. They adjusted the dose... GREAT!" he exclaims.
Weiss is also quite good. He's beefy but also vulnerable. The actor, known mostly as star of TV's The Pretender surprised me by adding depth to this quite different character. He's an imperfectly real person and Weiss brings a lifetime of history to the role.
None of these actors over-sell their roles. Weber, on the other hand, can't contain himself in trying to be Gay with a capital "G." He's too over-the-top for a leading man and not believable. At the same time, he seems weak and undeveloped. Even a full-on stereotype might have registered more. For a film called Jeffrey that's the one character that is barely there. Stewart, on the other hand, plays his role flamboyantly but totally real.
Another problem with the film is the slack timing. Many scenes just sort of flop around endlessly before coming to some point. It's not that this movie needs wham-bang MTV pacing but it settles into a familiar drone much of the time. For a play applauded for its wit and light-footedness the film is leaden and draggy.
The film also contains an impressive list of supporting actors like Nathan Lane, Kathy Najimy, Christine Baranski, Camryn Manheim and many more, but only Sigourney Weaver is given interesting material. Her scene as a strange motivational speaker seems to come from another movie entirely, but it's a welcome aside. Her acidic wit and great timing are a relief.VIDEO:
The anamorphic widescreen video is fine, if indistinct. The cinematography overall has a flat low-budget look that betrays the more fantastical elements of the film and the transfer makes no attempt to make up for it. Some interior scenes have a warmer, crisper look. The film is somewhat grainy although I didn't notice too much compression.