Comedy homage to Technicolor romances has gay Everyman in Doris Day role
A modernized mock-'60s romantic comedy with an insecure gay guy in the Doris Day role, "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" is a movie that announces its intention to be affecting but funny from its very first scene.
Opening with a voice-over in which the hero laments about growing up gay in Indiana -- a sequence cleverly illustrated with Polaroids from his childhood -- the movie then launches into a farcical title sequence with badly made-up drag queens lip-syncing to "Blue and Groovy."
I love a movie that assures me this quickly I'm going to have fun.
A broken-hearted fable about an unlucky-in-love Everyman and his frustrating crush on a sexually ambiguous new boy in town, "Billy" borrows story and stylistic elements from 1950s and '60s "women's movies," then adds many an ironic wink.
Sean P. Hayes, a slightly effeminate Jon Cryer kind of guy, stars as Billy, a Los Angeles photographer looking for love, and for a pretty boy model to play the man in a series of idiosyncratic photos based on famous screen kisses but featuring drag queens in the female roles.
When he meets a waiter/Brad Pitt-clone named Gabriel (Brad Rowe), he's pretty sure he's found what he needs on both counts. But affairs of the heart are ever that easy.
Written and directed by Tommy O'Haver, this picture is at once a spoof and an homage to swoony Technicolor romances and thickly-acted dramas, the influence of which can be felt in its ultra-vivid hues, periodic circular dissolves and a soundtrack littered with Xavier Cugat riffs.
O'Haver delves into Billy's dreams with fantasy sequences photographed against patently projected backgrounds (the beach, for example). He even shoots the film in Cinemascope and is joyously immoderate about putting the entire screen to good use.
O'Haver's script is both silly and earnest in the way it endears Billy to the audience, and Hayes plays him with such universally identifiable insecurity that this film could become a cross-over sleeper hit like "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" did in 1994.
An ensemble of gay and straight advisers add another level of comic relief to Billy's self-doubt as they play sounding board to his incessant analysis of Gabriel's orientation. And as the is-he-or-isn't-he object of affection, Rowe doesn't offer any hints, waffling to Billy's apprehensive advances in a way that leaves the audience pretty sure he's straight one minute and pretty sure he gay the next.
The films does have its blemishes. A few of the straight actors playing gay are a little obvious, O'Haver occasionally tries to lend his characters a little more dramatic credence than they deserve and his ending is awfully abrupt. But "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" is nonetheless a low-budget triumph, and one of the more creative and affable movies this summer.