Despite lacking the star power and studio financed big budget that brought the gay theme movies, "In & Out" and "The Birdcage" to mainstream audiences, "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" -- a little film with big aspirations -- is just as charming and often as funny as its better known cinematic cousins.
With the underpinnings of a traditional romantic comedy, the film adds a touch of early Woody Allen, a heavy dose of those old, campy 1960's beach movies, and has substituted a predominantly gay grouping of characters to create a picture that will delight gay audiences and may just do the same for those who are straight.
The intentions of writer/director Tommy O'Haver, who makes his feature film debut with this picture, are not only to entertain all moviegoers, but also to clear up some grey areas regarding the whole gay/straight issue. Although the film starts off with a funny, gay related monologue and is mainly populated with gay characters, O'Haver cleverly manages to make the audience forget most of that as the story progresses.
Of course, that issue is never completely forgotten since it's brought up so many times, but O'Haver's point is that the exciting and awkward stages of early romance transcend the sexes. By placing his characters into situations familiar to most moviegoers no matter their orientation, nearly everyone can commiserate and enjoy the romantic comedy elements.
A moment where the camera lingers above Billy and Gabriel -- who've ended up platonically in bed together -- as Billy's uncertain about what he should or shouldn't do to "test the waters" is very funny and elicited the biggest laughs from our preview audience, most of whom have been in the same situation (again, regardless of their sexual orientation).
The film is also charming due to its campy 1960's beach movie approach that it often presents. From the hilarious trio of decidedly unfeminine doo-wop drag queens who "perform" during the opening credit sequence (and several subsequent, but still quite funny appearances) to the many film-based fantasy sequences (usually shot in front of a rear screen projector -- just like those old beach flicks), the film is often hilariously campy in its own right.
Some clever moments where sequential Polaroid snapshots accompany Billy's stories are also quite funny -- such as during the opening monologue -- and are reminiscent of Woody Allen's early films where he played around with unconventional film techniques.
Beyond such visual moments and romantic comedy elements, O'Haver has infused his script with many unrelated, but humorous moments (especially those involving Billy's straight and female friend, George). His screenplay not only moves along at a brisk clip, but his characters are nicely drawn and their dialogue is often razor sharp.
Of course, to pull all of this off, a likeable group of charismatic performers is needed, and here O'Haver has pulled a major casting coup. While the performers are relative unknowns, they deliver great performances and should go on to bigger (and equally better) things.
As the title character, Sean P. Hayes is perfect in the role. Easily inheriting the type of character normally associated with the likes of Billy Crystal (discounting the sexual orientation), Hayes is funny, charming and easily elicits the audience's collective sympathy. Don't be surprised to see his star rising on the Hollywood skyline.
Playing the object of nearly everyone's affection, Brad Rowe -- who looks so much like a young Brad Pitt that you'll begin to wonder about all of those recent cloning experiments -- is good playing the befuddled and sexually ambiguous beefcake. Meredith Scott Lynn, as Billy's best friend and sounding board (who's also one of the film's producers), is also highly reminiscent of another Hollywood star -- Minnie Driver -- and delivers a funny and delightful take on her character.
An impressive, quirky and decidedly accessible debut for O'Haver, this film smartly avoids the issues of AIDS and gay rights and instead offers lightweight, fluffy enjoyment and should play well to open-minded audiences. Featuring good performances, a clever script, and some fun visual techniques and old fashioned, campy elements, "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" might not reach mainstream moviegoers like its bigger budgeted, high profile Hollywood gay films, but it should. We give the movie a 7 out of 10. ~~~~~taken from Screen IT Entertainment reviews. rest of review: http://www.screenit.com/movies/1998/billys_hollywood_screen_kiss.html
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