As George VI in The King’s Speech, Colin Firth looks even sadder than he did onscreen last year, when he was suicidal over the loss of his longtime boyfriend.
This time, he has a terrible stutter, and no amount of therapy—or loving support from wifey, her majesty Helena Bonham Carter—can seem to c-c-cure it.
Well, along comes Geoffrey Rush, fully recovered from that mental illness years ago in Shine, not to mention his awful scarring as the battered old bird in Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. He’s now an unorthodox speech teacher—a sort of Australian Annie Sullivan—who uses psychology, singing, cussing, and other jazzy gimmicks to get his effects, allowing his subject to embarrass himself in private so he won’t have to do so in public. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the future King George pronouncing therapeutic utterances like, “Fuck ass . . . willy, shit, and fuck . . . and tits!”
At Speech‘s premiere party last week, one journo was running around cursing what we just saw by calling it “the best film of 1993.” But critics have been sputtering with delight, and in a year filled with flicks about overcoming adversity through sheer will, the producers are counting on no one stammering when they say, “The winner is The King’s Speech.”
The next day, the king was still speaking at a 21 Club luncheon, where cognoscenti gathered to anoint this a prestige history lesson. As they gushed, the film’s producer, Gareth Unwin, told me there was an even racier take of the immortal cussing scene somewhere in the can. But what could possibly be dirtier than “willy, shit, fuck, and tits”? “The C-word!” he informed me. “Was that epithet even around in the 1920s?” I asked, not realizing it dates back to The Canterbury Tales and even earlier, before the rooster Chanticleer ever crowed. “Maybe Colin was just feeling it,” Unwin said, laughing. “He and Geoffrey Rush were breaking up laughing a lot on those takes. They had to do about six takes before they got a solid one that went all the way through.” And it’s the best fucking scene in the movie.
My kind of period drama is the 1981 showbiz horror story Mommie Dearest, which turned a whole generation gay, so I was thrilled to have Rutanya Alda—who played Joan Crawford’s devoted housekeeper, Carol Ann—at my table for some real prestige. Rutanya told me she’s working on a book called The Mommie Dearest Diaries, and she remembers everything, if not necessarily all her lines. (“People remember them better than I do,” she told me. “Waiters will recite my entire part!”)
Will she write that Faye Dunaway was icky to work with, I hope? “Well, I have to tell the truth in the book,” Rutanya said, smiling. “She was difficult. You never knew what mood she’d be in. She’d have people fired for looking at her the wrong way. But she gave a terrific performance. She shouldn’t push it away.” I thoroughly agree—but who wants to be the one who tells Faye that she needs to embrace Mommie Dearest?
The C-word is therapeutic again in Blue Valentine, a Cassavetes-esque take on a couple falling in love, fighting, making up, and talking, with Michelle Williams telling Ryan Gosling, “I’m more man than you are, you fucking cunt!” At a special screening last week, director Derek Cianfrance said he wrote the original script 12 years ago when his top casting choices were Benicio Del Toro and Ashley Judd. But when he later met the star duo he ended up with, he knew it could only be them, “and I felt like I was making a documentary of two characters falling in love.” In fact, when they started shooting, rainbows and a dog on a skateboard magically appeared in shots! Got that, cunts?
On Broadway, The Merchant of Venice is an effing event, with Lily Rabe sending herself to the front ranks of today’s versatile and commanding bright lights with her polymorphous Portia. And though I swear Al Pacino looked at the audience for entrance applause the night I was there, he earned it with his well-oiled King Herod meets Roy Cohn via a 47th Street dealer creation of a righteous Shylock. True to the text, he has hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, and passions.
Meanwhile, can you believe there are people with senses who actually think The Scottsboro Boys is racist and anti-Semitic? These same irony-deficient folks probably felt Cabaret was pro-Holocaust. The Scottsboro Boys is a comment on prejudice, OK? It’s pretty clear about that, you dumb Commies.
A comment on tourism, Elf is partly created by people who did The Drowsy Chaperone, and it starts the exact same way—with a man in a chair bringing a quaint, old musical to life from the ashes of memory. But this time, the old musical turns out to allegedly be new and not at all the 1960s road-show entry it generally comes off like. The trouble is that Elf the new musical is overloaded with songs blander than eggnog watered down with Diet Sprite, and the people on their knees reek of budget cuts, not Shrek-like inspiration. Still, at least it centers on a father finally accepting his idiosyncratic son, about whom one character quizzically asks, “You have a girlfriend?”
Everyone was open for business in Philadelphia, where I helped judge the U.S. Mr. Gay pageant, which was filled with half-clad hunks sashaying while pleading for equality. But first came a stop at the local Franklin Institute’s Cleopatra exhibit, where they displayed centuries-old statues that were found underwater, plus a really nice photo of Liz Taylor. The audio tour is done by an actress playing Cleo and declaring, “I married my younger brother, Ptolemy XIII, when my father died.” So Cleopatra was total trash, fit for The Jerry Springer Show?
On a loftier plane, we took a caravan over to the Voyeur club for the pageant, where the other judges included an African-American man running for City Council who told me, “Hopefully I’ll be the Harvey Chocolate Milk of Philadelphia.” (Another role for the ever-expanding Sean Penn.) We all held hands for a group prayer à la Madonna, upon which celebrity hairdresser David Evangelista inspiringly said, “I hope I suck Mr. Annapolis’s dick tonight.”
And then the contest began, with performers prancing around as a marching band played a medley of Lady Gaga songs. “I’m flashing back to high school and the people I wasn’t allowed to sit with,” lamented another judge, A-List: New York‘s T.J. Kelly.
There were other acts sprinkled through the night, all laced with a refreshing earnestness not found in New York, especially the male singer belting Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” as an elastic young woman did acrobatics on a gigantic Jewish star that doubled as a riser. (And, no, it wasn’t anti-Semitic.)
But the co-hosts brought some intentional lunacy into the proceedings, like when one contestant said he wants to touch the youth of America, and drag star Brittany Lynn responded, “So do I!” And after another stud’s stimulating Q&A exchange about gay rights, co-host Frank DeCaro effortlessly replied, “Great answer—now you need to get in my mouth.”
The winner was the dimpled Mr. Columbia, South Carolina, a Rick Schroeder lookalike who’s a slickly affable fellow right out of The Sound of Music via Election. The evening’s resounding theme? “We are not the other.” Or to put it less eloquently: “Fuck ass, willy, shit, fuck, and tits.”