Boy Meets Boy
Since the 1930s, the romantic comedy has been one of Hollywood’s most popular and profitable comedy sub-genres. By the means of its conventional boy meets, loses, and gets back girl plot, patriarchal values (heterosexual coupling, monogamy) and institutions (marriage) are naturalized and subsequently promoted as ideals. Consequently, there is no place in the center of the Hollywood romantic comedy’s hetero-driven narrative for gay men, lesbians, or anyone else on society’s so-called sexual margins. When there is any hint of sexual difference, it’s usually in the form of a supporting gay male character, who serves as the leading lady’s (or man’s) best friend and confidante.
In too many recent films (for instance, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Sweet November, and Three to Tango), gay male characters are on call twenty-four/seven to lend the female or male protagonist a shoulder to cry on and a sympathetic ear. There’s no question that the heterosexual lovers are in good hands. When it comes to the affairs of the heart, gay men are the resident experts, even though little is ever revealed about their own personal relationships.
All Over the Guy, the new romantic comedy directed by Julie Davis, aims to put a new spin on the genre by reversing the gay and straight characters’ roles. The film’s gay male couple, Tom (Richard Ruccolo) and Eli (Dan Bucatinsky, who also penned the screenplay), is its focus. Like most romantic comedies, this one follows the various stages of their relationship, from their disastrous first date to their eleventh hour reconciliation. Meanwhile, their respective straight best friends, Jackie (Sasha Alexander) and Brett (Adam Goldberg)—responsible for bringing them together—are the ones sitting on the sidelines, ready to dispense advice and offer their support.
During the film’s first twenty minutes, the premise shows definite promise. But once our four main characters are introduced and Tom officially “hooks up” with Eli and Brett with Jackie, the film has no place to go. The problem lies in screenwriter Bucatinsky’s failure to fully develop his characters. He seems to be content with showing us that gays, like straights, have the same fears when it comes to relationships. Unfortunately, he offers limited insight into why Eli is so insecure and why Tom repeatedly pushes him away.
What we are told is that Tom and Eli’s hang-ups stem from their dysfunctional relationships with their parents. The newly sober Dan is the child of disapproving, withholding alcoholics (Joanna Kerns and Nicolas Surovy). The neurotic Tom has sexual issues because he was forced to engage in therapeutic games (like feeling comfortable saying “penis” and “vagina” at the dinner table) by his parents (Andrea Martin and Tony Abatemarco), a pair of overbearing psychologists. Because their problems have more to do with their parents than each other, their whining and complaining about one another becomes excessive to the point where we begin to lose interest in whether they stay together or not. The problem is compounded further by the film’s almost non-existent plot, which consists of a series of repetitive scenes in which Dan and Tom make up, then break up, then make up, etc. In between each mini-drama, Jackie and Brett, while contending with their own idiosyncrasies (and each other’s), have little else to do.
Despite the material’s limitations, the four leads are appealing performers, particularly Goldberg, whose wry comic style is best suited for Bucatinsky’s Must-See-TV dialogue, chock full of glib put-downs and popular culture references. The emotional depth and well-developed characters that made the classic romantic comedies of the ‘30s (It Happened One Night, Twentieth Century) and revisionist comedies like Annie Hall (1977) so memorable is no longer commercial or in demand. If box-office receipts are any indication, audiences seems content with the semi-glossy, superficiality that is so pervasive in some of the most successful boy-meets-girl comedies, like As Good as It Gets (1997) and You’ve Got Mail (1998).
If All Over the Guy is any indication of what Hollywood has in store for gay relationships, it looks like gay men and lesbians will be receiving the same shallow treatment as their heterosexual counterparts. I’m certain that when the first gay rights activists began their fight for equality, this is not what they had in mind.