LOVE! VALOR! COMPASSION! is a romantic comedy, full of great one-liners, that, nonetheless is not shy about taking on serious subjects, such as the human heart. Forget space, this is the real final frontier. Nothing else has such an infinite capacity to delight, destroy, and surprise.
The story takes place over three holiday weekends during which a group of friends contemplate their lives and their relationships at a country house that is Martha Stewart perfect. Into this idyllic setting, one of them brings the proverbial snake in the grass who stirs things up by seducing the hosts’ lover. As a result, perfect relationships prove to be less than solid, and solid relationships less than perfect.
Terrance McNally’s play translates to the screen without losing the intimacy of theater. We get to know these characters by listening to others discuss them, and by being able to watch them at length. And there are actual conversations here, conversations that have a point, not a punch line. As one character says early on, words matter. A concept illustrated in one scene, where through a half-open door, we eavesdrop on Arthur and Perry, a couple of fourteen years’ standing. They trim each other’s ear hair and talk about the everyday things common to lives tightly intertwined. It makes for a moment so intimate and so loving, that the mere slapping together of gonads pales in comparison.
There are two standout performances. One is Jason Alexander as Buzz, the musical-loving, self-proclaimed imp. Catty, prickly, not easy to be around even before becoming HIV-positive, he’s still so sweet, in spite of himself, that when, late in the film, he turns vulnerable, it’s a revelation that is still, miraculously, perfectly in character. The other is John Glover in the tricky dual role of identical twins John and James Jekyll who share two sides of the same soul, one good, one evil. Okay, the name’s a little heavy-handed. Glover looks completely different as each twin – the one a walking scowl, the other lit from within with an angelic light. It’s no surprise that this role won him a Tony award on Broadway.
No film has ever done a better job of examining the blessing and the curse that constitutes our species’ almost savage need for other people. And how close to the angelic plane it can bring us.