The most anxiety-making theater development of recent years is that the dailies seem to rave uncontrollably about any half-assed show with a gay subject. Flounce some homosexuals across a stage, add the obligatory "My boyfriend is valiantly fighting AIDS, but I'm negative" routine, and you've automatically got an orgasming critic who's clearly mistaken a noble theme for a good play. Well, isn't this what we always fought for? No! Raves about tepid shit make it unnecessary for anyone to do their best work, surely paving the way for the end of gay culture. Reviewers, please don't try so hard to be with it or we'll soon be without it!
In praising a new gay film I've stumbled onto, I'll at least try to be a bit balanced. It's Relax . . . It's Just Sex, which follows a bunch of gay couples (and occasional straight ones) on the bumpy way to romantic nirvana. The heartfelt flick by P.J. Castellaneta covers a lot of expected bases, serves up some easy resolutions, and is sort of like David Searching crossed with It's My Party via Thirtysomething, but I still give it an unexpectedly aroused thumbs up. Between to-cringe-for banalities, it's infused with warmth, a likable cast, and laugh-out-loud dialogue about relationships. ("You know how lesbians are. They're like Catholics or Saturday Night Live. They go on forever, no matter how bad it gets.") I hope this review doesn't kill gay culture.
Feeling quite alive, I nabbed a phoner with Jennifer Tilly, who exudes her usual woozy zing as Relax's straight girl, especially when getting impregnated on a kitchen counter. Tilly told me she had her doubts about doing another low-budget number. "I didn't want to get typecast as the indie queen," she said. "But here was a great part, and I was whining because I thought 'I'm not gonna get well lit!' " And despite the production's inherent risks, she admits that playing a fag hag was not all that much of a stretch.
The gamble paid off. Tilly said the quickly assembled movie got a great response at Sundance, even from Mormons and heterosexual couples. "There were little old ladies dabbing tears away," she said. "One of them told me and Lori Petty, 'Thank you for letting us know how you people are.' Like it's a bizarre aboriginal tribe! My ski instructor told me, 'I didn't realize gays were just people like me.' At this point, I skied faster."
While I had her on the phone, Tilly addressed some of her other career slaloms like her understandably peeved expression when her Bullets Over Broadway costar Dianne Wiest was announced as the Oscar winner in '94. "Well, I didn't want to look joyful!" she said, laughing. "Actually, most people think I looked serene. I was happy for Dianne and the movie, if a little vulnerable. But she's gracious and I knew she'd refer to me in her speech, and I'd get another shot at being on national TV. When she called me her 'esteemed colleague,' I put that serene expression on my face!"
Next, Tilly's de-woozing and going for even more esteem in a thriller called Do Not Disturb. "I'll be a lovely, graciously aging woman with three gray hairs," she said. Or two, actually; a techie pulled out one of those hairs as Tilly shrieked, "But that's part of my character!"
Anxious for a second opinion on Relax that's part of my character I tracked down Lori Petty, who's terrific in the flick as a lesbian who's afraid she may be too butch for her new girlfriend (a problem I never seem to experience). "This movie's like Boyz N the Hood for gay people," Petty enthused. "It's not like Hollywood movies, which only have all these straight, white people falling in love. You know, 'But you were on top yesterday!' 'Well, I'm always on top!' " After which Tom Hanks inevitably replies, "But Meg!"
Like Tilly, Petty was thrilled by the movie's Sundance reception, but she says the overall experience was "like a press junket that never ended. It's unshaven Hollywood. If you're high maintenance like me and Jennifer, don't go! Every corner, it's like, 'Hi, Ben Affleck!' " Sounds good to me. Petty will next round a corner and turn up in Clubland, in which she's "the Madonna Courtney Love freak drug addict bitch rock-and-roll star. I'm the star of the Sunset Strip, but I'm also like the Antichrist. I fall off the stage and overdose on drugs. I gag, but I don't really vomit a lot." Oh, good less is so much more.
Moving on to slightly more hygienic movie dish, Goodbye Lover the Ellen DeGeneres vehicle whose delayed release I recently noted is finally being foisted on the public next month, mercifully enough. And here's some more good news for Ellen: In the imminent EDtv, she gets a big laugh when her character says, "Believe me, I know about women!" Alas, the bad news for moviegoers of all sexes is that the treacly, fraudulent, trivializing The Other Sister is the feel-good mental retardation movie of the year. This one makes David and Lisa look like a documentary!
A feel-bad saga about wormy people in the big house, Not About Nightingales is one of Tennessee Williams's rare straight plays (the character named the Queen notwithstanding). This intriguing exercise in "fascinated horror" is a structural mess that reeks of old George Raft movies by way of Penitentiary, though there may be enough of Williams's poetry lurking behind the self-consciously ham-bone production to make you not want to break out. But instead of Not About Nightingales, it should really be called Is About Three Hours.
The three-hour Grammy Awards marathon imprisoned some dark thoughts in my mind: Will Smith is a Central Casting version of a rapper; Madonna's geisha number was on the level of "Springtime for Hitler"; the talent should be made to perform their nominated songs, not the crap they're now promoting; and host Rosie O'Donnell may have deserved some of the strained jokes she had to tell on her show, she's become the reactionary figure of your worst nightmares. She's mad at Calvin Klein, Marilyn Manson, and anything else she probably would have liked as a kid.
Staying within the year of the woman, my sources on the set of Grammy winner Shania Twain's latest video say that Twain's lowly extras were instructed through a rep that they were not to speak to Miss Thing unless spoken to. Why would anyone want to talk to that creature anyway?
And while we're being inquisitive, can we expect a serene expression from Babyface at this year's Oscars? Probably not, because sources claim the guy contributed a musical bridge for "When You Believe," that supposedly inspirational Prince of Egypt song whose pop version he produced, but only Stephen Schwartz is listed as a nominee. Well, apparently DreamWorks submitted the early, pre-Babyface version for "Best Original Song" because Schwartz wanted it that way. Weirdly enough, though, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston are slated to perform the tune on the awards telecast and they do the version with the Babyface bridge!
Finally, start polishing a trophy for local drag star Michael Cavadias (a/k/a Lily of the Valley). Cavadias has just shot a choice role in the comedy Wonder Boys, starring Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr. Apparently, Downey meets Cavadias on a plane and thinks he's a woman but I don't think things turn out as dramatically as in The Crying Game. There's no vomiting or even gagging. Do I hear some raves?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.