NY Mirror

'I'm Australian,' said Cate Blanchett. 'I haven't read that much Elizabethan pornography!'

If you somehow haven't been privy to Happiness yet, put down this column right now and race your ass out to see it. No, actually, finish the column first and then go see it. The disturbing, refreshing slapstick tragedy is the best flick of the year so far, and the folks who've been calling it "degenerate" probably would have boycotted Oedipus and thrown rocks at Hamlet. While I normally don't organize pride parades about movies featuring gay child-molesters

either, this one uses his plight to peel away the fake veneer from those having-it-all suburban marriages in the context of a darkly funny, piercing look at a whole bunch of pervs, most of them straight, ha-ha. Whatever it is, it adds up to exciting filmmaking--the kind that makes you certain other people in the theater must be cringing with recognition.

At the movie's premiere party at Coco Opera, Dylan Baker,who's so stunning as the molester, told me he saw a closed-circuit TV show in Toronto on which two critics fought over whether Happiness is a masterpiece or an abomination. "They only agreed on one thing," Baker said, grinning. "That Dylan Baker would never work again!" Actually, he already has--he's in Woody Allen'sCelebrity as a priest, "and no, I'm not a pedophile priest," he remarked. "I'm a normal one!" Aaanyway . . . at the same soiree, Elizabeth Ashley told me she made Happiness because she loved the project, and "Heresy is so hard to do." Gina Gershon said she adored Happiness, and as for One Tough Cop,which she'sin, "There was a lot of testosterone on that set." And that bundle of Emmy-winning estrogen, Camryn Manheim, told me she chose to do Happiness instead of a big old lucrative Disney film she was offered, because that's just the way she is. Camryn's concession to mass appeal was a recent appearance on The Donny and Marie Show, which she made because producer Dick Clark personally asked her to--plus he agreed to record her outgoing phone message. "It was very surreal to be there with Donny and Marie," she told me. "They look exactly the same as before--I hate them both!" she laughed.

Mercifully, Camryn doesn't look exactly the same as anything, and will undoubtedly go down in tube history for accepting her Emmy (for The Practice)on behalf of "the fat girls" everywhere. When I congratulated her on that nuttily inspiring speech, she said, "Are you one of the fat girls? Yeah, you're one of us!" I held in my stomach, pushed out my crotch, and tried to look confused, but then Camryn explained, "I mean, the underdogs!" Oh yeah, I'm one of them.

Next thing you know, I was squeezing my fat-girl butt through the metal detector to see Corpus Christi, but while it turned out that the play--like Happiness--isn't at all degenerate,it ain't at all good either. Despite the potentially fascinating premise that makes Jesus the victim of homophobia ("The son of God is a cocksucker," as one character says), the play is a giant, misguided bore that makes you hope for a terrorist attack. The gay angle and the concomitant security fears, in fact, are the most interesting things about it--and you get a bomb all right. The evening starts disingenuously with a character announcing, "There are no tricks up our sleeves," after which comes an avalanche of them, as the Jesus character is born to a hick mama and grows up to be a loser at the sock hop. Things get extremely pseudo-profound after that, but the mix of Our Town, Saturday Night Live, Godspell,and The Boys in the Band makes for an unholy mess that's only sacrilegious because it lacks inspiration.

Beth Henley'sImpossible Marriage is another stretch--an attempt to do a Wildean comedy of manners set in the contemporary Deep South--and while there are laffs, the characters are filled with too much precious whimsy as they indulge in constant, contradictory changes of heart. As they all kept randomly floating in and out of relationships (and foliage), I made a vow to stay bitterly alone.

I went bitterly with a friend to the Elizabeth premiere and loved humanity again when a movie exec got up and announced, "Elizabeth is what every Englishman wants--a strong, dominating woman who pretends to be a virgin." Kathie Lee Gifford must be popular over there. At the Central Park Boathouse party afterward, director ShekharKapur told me he cast Cate Blanchett as the fiery queen strictly on the basis of the trailer for Oscar and Lucinda. "They wanted to send me the whole movie," he explained, "but I said, 'No, I don't want any doubts.' " He shouldn't have resisted; she was actually good in the whole movie! Kapur also said he had to fly to Geoffrey Rush's side and dissolve his doubts about doing Elizabeth, though Rush later told me, "I didn't need to be convinced, but realigned. I knew he was the kind of director who could take away from clichés. Not that I thought the script was a cliché, but it was a . . . thing."

Miss Thing--or Queen Blanchett, as Kapur calls her--then made her royal entrance and was radiant, though her pesky publicist wouldn't let her pose with the ladies in waiting hired to spice up the (supposedly publicity) party. Well, this little lady had been waiting to ask Blanchett--who worshipped the strong, dominating Wonder Woman as a child--if she's a fan of the current version, Xena. The actress seemed taken aback. "She's an Amazonian figure, right?" Blanchett said. "I hear the show is big on the lesbian circuit."

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