Friday, July 30, 2004

I am having a hard time wrestling with my demons after seeing the Irish film "Cowboys and Angels" recently. It's not just the fact that people I watched it with found it "sweet" or "cute", who told me with frank bewilderment in their voice, "How could you *not* find it cute?". Was the movie an unabashed piece of populist film-making? Yes, most definitely. Is that bad? Again, definitely not. I've never been a big fan of far-left criticism (read The Village Voice) that casually dismisses movies that it considers even remotely populist.

But its more than that. Consider "Cowboys and Angels". It traffics in cliches. Like a sort of Irish version of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", it has a queer guy and a straight one. Both room-mates. Of course. Of course, the straight guy gets a make-over courtesy the queer guy. There's the inevitable fag-hag who the straight guy has a crush on. There are a couple of gangsters who complicate matters. There's drugs and a little (just a little) bit of sex. And of course, there's the customary happy ending with the even more customary rites-of-passage. All of this, handled rightly, could definitely have made for a "cute" movie.

But Cowboy's problem is not the the cliches it peddles. It is the movie's fucking tepidness (or is it tepidity?). Its utter lack of dramatic intensity. The way it meanders in different directions but never - never - ever backs up its cuteness with emotions. Midway through the film, our hero reveals that he lost his father in an accident and had to give up his dreams of college. The scene is played with the customary weepy background score - but it amounts to nothing more than words. The actual import of what has happened is never conveyed - neither by the cute actor Michael Legge nor by the film-maker himself. The deep bond that develops between the room-mates by the end of the movie remains a screen-writer's device. It is not even remotely in evidence on the screen. And the movie's set-piece - a scene where the gay guy tries straight sex and a homo-thug goes down on the straight guy - is so contrived that I actually burst into laughter.

For a movie that calls itself gay - and markets itself as a plea for tolerance (blah!!) - there's a curious double standard on display here. Like NBC's Will & Grace, homosexuals are fine - hell, they 're even amusing - as long as they don't have sex. The movie's one moment when the gay guy is actually shown having sex - if it can be called sex, that is - is also it's biggest cheat, proving that in movies, characters are functions of plots.

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