Torch Song Trilogy (1988)
Directed by Paul Bogart
Cast: Harvey Fierstein, Brian Kerwin, Matthew Broderick, Anne Bancroft, Karen Young, Ken Page, Charles Pierce, Eddie Castrodad, Axel Vera.
1988 120 minutes
Rated: (for profanity and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 9, 1998.
"Torch Song Trilogy," based on a popular Broadway play by Harvey Fierstein, is an earnest, emotionally accurate, but seriously flawed drama.
The film is a character study of Arnold Beckoff (played without a false note by Fierstein), a man working as a drag queen who always knew he was gay, and wasn't afraid to show it. Beginning in 1971 after a small prologue, Arnold meets Ed (Brian Kerwin) at a bar and they immediately hit it off, but Ed immediately lets it be known that he is also interested in women, even though we sense it is only because he is afraid to come out to his family and friends. After things get too complicated for Ed, he leaves him, and Arnold is seeked out by a much younger fasion model, Alan (Matthew Broderick), who meets him at the club where Arnold works as the drag queen. Things begin to look up for Arnold, but tragedy strikes just as he begins to believe that he finally has found true love. Although on the surface, Arnold seems very secure with his sexuality, we begin to sense that he is hurting very much underneath because he knows that his mother (Anne Bancroft) secretly wishes he had never been born.
"Torch Song Trilogy" would be an examplary motion picture, if not for its many problems. It is serious and well acted by all, but the gay characters are mostly stereotypical, which is a surprise, since Fierstein, a homosexual in real life, wrote it. All of the people are portrayed as very promiscuous, and although this may have been the case in the 70's, before AIDS surfaced, it still feels a little too trite. Another problem is that time moves way too fast throughout. At some points, three to five years will pass between certain scenes, which disappointed me since a lot of major events had happened, we find out, off-screen. This is no doubt because the film had to come in at two hours, but it still felt a little rushed. Many of the plot points could also be easily predicted, especially the untimely fate of Alan, which is clumsily telegraphed well in advance.
Many moments in "Torch Song Trilogy," do ring true, however, despite its faults, and I suspect it is largely due to Fierstein brilliant performance. I have never seen him have such a juicy role before, and he pulls it off flawlessly. Karen Young, in a supporting role as Ed's sympathetic wife, also adds a lot of humanity to all of her scenes, although I wish she would have had more to do. A confrontational penultimate sequence is also very well-done, between Fierstein and Bancroft.
"Torch Song Trilogy" is full of good intentions, and has a fair share of strong points, so it is especially disappointing that Fierstein hadn't changed some of the weaker elements in the screenplay. I don't know how this material worked on a stage, but as a film, it is well-done in many respects, but could have been much more.
© 1998 by Dustin Putman