NY Mirror

Little Children is that darkly funny and disturbing film about suburban hypocrites who become unhinged at the sight of a newly released pedophile sex offender, forgetting that they're not exactly Mary Poppins themselves. The tsk-tsking epic opened amid the MARK FOLEY and JOHN MARK KARR scandals, and I pray that's helping its box office the way Three Mile Island turned into gold for The China Syndrome. (Tragedy might as well boost the coffers of fine moviemaking; otherwise, what good is it?)

After a special screening last week, some of the flick's hotshot cast members fielded questions while distancing themselves from their icky characters. ("I'm not Larry," pleaded NOAH EMMERICH, who plays the town's self-appointed morality zealot with a secret. "I'm not Ronnie," blurted JACKIE EARLE HALEY, who brings surprising depth to the role of the pedophile—an arrested child who was indeed arrested.)

It's Haley who's getting the loudest Oscar buzz, and it helps that he's surrounded by such well-cast co-stars (like PHYLLIS SOMERVILLE and JANE ADAMS) and also that his own real-life story has such a good arc. A teen star in The Bad News Bears and Breaking Away, Haley's comet went down when he turned into the world's youngest has-been since SHIRLEY TEMPLE. Now he realizes, "My identity became attached to celebrity, and when I lost my celebrity, it became a hard trip to find me. I've had difficulties with alcohol and cigarettes, and I can't stop biting my nails. It's an OCD." Not to mention aesthetically unappealing. That really bites.

But at least that gave the comeback kid an understanding of how Ronnie uses his own obsessions to block out the world and bury his low self-esteem. "We weren't trying to make a sympathetic character," explained Haley, nibbling away. "We were trying to make him real. If anyone does feel anything for him—hatred, disdain, pity—we didn't want people to feel bad for feeling it." But Somerville piped in that as the doting mother she felt only adoration. "You always see the cherished child in a troubled, degraded man," she said. "It's the 'you should see him when he's sleeping' syndrome." Yeah, as long as he's sleeping alone.

As we prepared to run home to check on our inner children, Haley offered his take on the role's riskiness. "If it's a career killer, that's fine," he said, grinning, "because it was dead two years ago anyway."

A woman with endless waves of careers, ELLEN BURSTYN has now written a memoir, Lessons in Becoming Myself, that's a piercing look at the "masks" she had to rip off to get to some truth as a person and an actor. And how does Burstyn feel now, all naked and honest? "Embarrassed," she admitted at her book soiree last week. "Everybody in the world is going to know all my humiliating secrets. At the moment, I'm just humiliated!" And we all went home and killed ourselves.

Or tried to. We survived and ended up at The Times They Are A-Changin', that BOB DYLAN confuseical that is the result of TWYLA THARP playing victim to the success of her BILLY JOEL show. (Drumming up working-class plots out of old rock anthems can't be what she had in mind when she went to college. Oh, it was? Never mind.) Now she puts Dylan's songs about liberation and change into a corrupt-circus setting, which seems as offbeat as adapting the works of Freud into limericks. The animal number and the flashlight dance are two of the season's biggest "say what?" moments. But when the lead actor—or his understudy, actually—got to the Dylan lyric about "the jugglers and the clowns," he triumphantly pointed to the chorus of, yep, jugglers and clowns, beaming since the whole show clearly made sense now. Alas, judging from the critical reaction, they probably shouldn't have checked my bag for a bomb. They should have inspected the stage. And again, it was suicide time.

More successful, Grey Gardens is, of course, the musical based on ALBERT MAYSLES's cult documentary about the decrepit but still singing Edith and Edie Beale. Well, now Maysles is adding to the multimedia feasting by doing a documentary about the musical! (He's also helping MARTIN SCORSESE film his new doc about the ROLLING STONES. I guess with his longevity rate, MICK JAGGER will never be The Departed.) The musical, by the way, is in staunch shape—much better than the "28-room litter box" that houses blowsy Edith and bald Edie. Just wait till you see Jackie Kennedy meow!

A more wholesome household—with hair, yet—musically cavorts in the aforementioned Mary Poppins, so when a publicist left a message urging me to bring someone "age appropriate" to the show, I frantically started rummaging through my mind for any three-year-olds I know. (I almost called John Mark Karr.) But it turned out they meant we should bring someone mature—you know, old enough to not disrupt the performance during an all-important press night. Don't bring kids to Mary Poppins? Isn't that sort of like telling people not to take old hippies to the Dylan show? Sure, but in this case, it's no problem for me at all—I'm not Ronnie.  

The 24 Hour Plays—a very grown-up benefit for Working Playground—had name theater people writing, rehearsing, and mounting playlets, all in a mere day. The result, naturally, was uneven, but often better than some of the predigested crap served on Broadway, so I say let's always do it this way—just bring a grown-up guest. This time around, Hollywood drop-in JENNIFER ANISTON was a super-good sport, JULIANNA MARGULIES started cracking up (probably from the pressure), and THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS—who performed sardonic songs while props were being moved (and given)—proved they're the original TENACIOUS D.

Twenty-four hours later, the artsy-shmartsy crowd converged at a Guggenheim dinner for Absolute Wilson, the documentary about taskmaster director ROBERT WILSON. (I'm waiting for the Broadway musical with CHRISTINE EBERSOLE.) "In the movie, it says Robert arranges people," declared collaborator PHILIP GLASS, "but that's not true. He likes to arrange glasses and plates!" Well, Philip is one of the most collectible Glasses I know. Over by my plate, Steve Buscemi told me he has a role in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, with ADAM SANDLER and KEVIN JAMES. "They play firemen who pretend to be a gay couple to get domestic-partnership benefits," he said. "I'm the official who outs them as straight." Oh, no! Is this going to be a gay Soul Man—another comedy based on the twisted illusion that things are so much better for oppressed minorities? Am I going to have to start writing picket signs with my limp wrists? "No," Buscemi said, "they end up being big advocates of gay rights, Adam Sandler style." Oh, whew, girlfriend!

SUSANNE BARTSCH and KENNY KENNY's gay freakazoid crowd became a minority again when they were forced to mix with many straights at the opening of Room Service, a new "VIP luxury" club on the East 21st Street block dotted with upscale strip joints. My head spun from the rotating chandelier; the falling faux-snow; the woman with her boobies out, screaming, "Are you Jewish?"; and the drunken lady outside screeching, "He grabbed my breasts!"

At Happy Valley, big-chested ERIK RHODES barreled up to me and said, "Your column got me in trouble today with my probation officer!" Eek. Yikes. Whoops. Well, first of all, why do you have a probation officer, fine sir? "Erik has a bit of a temper problem," chimed in his manager. OK, in that case, oh great personage of bottoming out, was the officer mad that my write-up of the International Escort Awards pictured you—winner of Best Porn Star Escort—in a shirt that said hooker? "No," Rhodes replied. "He was mad that I was holding a bottle of beer!" Well, at least he doesn't bite his nails.

But stop everything—there's a new trend in movieland, even bigger than child molesting. It's turds! The quack doctor in Running With Scissors divines the future by looking at his own bowel movements. And now there's Flushed Away, though when the mouse first falls into the sewer and lands on something that looks like shit, it shockingly turns out to be a chocolate bar instead. Product placement instead of poo-poo? What a sick world.

Web Extra: I may be saddened to hear that Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe have separated—I said I may be—but I'm certainly not surprised. Haven't I for years been writing about the Oscar curse that plagues show-biz relationships and how a golden statue for one can become an ego-clobbering device for the other, almost always causing a wedge that irrevocably upsets the power balance? Whether because of the winner's bounding sense of self or the loser's growing sense of inadequacy, the coupling becomes untenable and ultimately as over as the box office hopes for Flags of our Fathers. After all, Sally won and Burt ran. Marlee won and William lost interest. Kim won and Alec exited. Julia won and Bratt went buh-bye. Halle won and Eric fled. Jennifer Connelly won and the fiancee disappeared. Salma was nominated and Ed said later. Ethan was nominated and Uma ditched. And though it took two Oscars, Chad Lowe finally became history—or a footnote on it, anyway.

Adorable Ryan's neediness became evident when his mic was still on after the SAG awards and cameras caught him shamelessly sucking up to Morgan Freeman. Later, when Reese won the Oscar, Ryan's comely jaw dropped to the ground, proving that while he's a pretty good actor, he couldn't even feign joy at that landmark moment.


Speaking of striving husbands, Kevin Federline's struggling career is a reminder that you can't just create a celebrity out of whole (or half) cloth. If you could, we'd all have Oscars. As touching as Britney's endless pushing of K-Fed is, it reeks of insecurity and enabling—a weird situation whereby she must feel he'll only stick around if she not only lets him enjoy the fruits of her fame, but constantly grab at his own. He needs to grab at other fruits.

Another Web Exclusive: Thursday night's ultra fun Distortion Disko—a gay dance party hosted by JOSH WOOD, KENNY KENNY, and DJ LARRY TEE—has ended over a messy dispute involving a has-been's love interest's attempt to go literary. According to Josh Wood, "The owners are refusing to pay us two weeks of salaries because we refused to host a party for LANCE BASS' boyfriend! Last week, the club tried to force us into throwing a book party for Lance. We didn't think it would be a draw and obviously would be very tacky. After a lot of pressure, Duvet made us agree to pay $500 for the promotion of the party. Then, we found out the book was not even written by Lance. It was actually a book party for his boyfriend REICHEN [LEHMKUHL], which means no one would go, so we told them we wouldn't pay for the party as they misrepresented it. Duvet wouldn't cancel the party and were going to withhold our wages, so we quit. They are still holding two weeks of our pay!" Ain't no lie, baby, bye, bye, bye. Duvet owner Sabina Belkin responds that she clearly informed the promoters that it was a party for Reichen's book and both Reichen and Lass would be attending. The promoters confirmed their $500 contribution, so she booked the party. When they backed out, she was forced to cancel the event and pay the full fee for it. She said the Duvet promoters' contract requires them to give a month's notice for cancellations. Because they did so with just five days' notice, "I have told them that we will not be able to pay their bar percentage." Oy, my head is swimming from all this. All that matters to me is where the unstoppable team will pop up next. I'll keep you posted—and you too, Lance and Reichen.

Yet more dish: Susanne Bartsch's Halloween bash at Avalon was canceled too—less than halfway through! I got to the party (which is always legendary) shortly after midnight, only to find a long line of festively dolled-up people being told, "You can't come in!" The only ones being allowed entrance were in an extremely dour-looking stream of cops—or maybe they were people in cop costumes—who clearly found whatever violation they were looking for and emerged to announce, "Everyone go home!" The club was shuttered for the night—one of the biggest party nights of the year!

And so the New York police state wins again in the fight against fun, exciting, gay-themed nightlife. (Sidebar: Avalon had recently been closed twice, once for nonpayment of taxes.) Bartsch tells me there really was no reason for the raid—"It was just harassment. They want to turn everything into condos."

Yet more nightlife tragedy, 11.03.06: Happy Valley—the sexy, medium-sized East 27th Street dance club that was completely over the top—had gone completely under the bottom. It's kaput.

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