Director: Christopher Ashley
Stars: Steven Weber, Michael T Weiss, Patrick Stewart
Sex was never meant to be “safe” or “negotiated” – or fatal.
- “Jeffrey” (Steven Weber)
You can count on one hand the works of art, music and literature crafted since the invention of fire that haven’t been inspired in some way by the negotiations that have attended sex since mankind crawled out of the swamp. It’s hard to imagine how any kind of sex could occur without some form of negotiation or the presence of some kind of risk.
Even virgin teenagers, with their unwanted public erections or cramping menstrual experiences understand the elemental, primal power of sex often long before they’ve even experienced it. Somewhere along the road to adulthood, however, many gay men seem to lose this knowledge.
For, only in the solipsistic, reality-starved, vacuum-sealed echo chamber of gay ghetto culture, the setting for the pathetic Jeffrey, could the idea that sex is naturally uncomplicated and should come with no consequences be expressed so guilelessly.
Jeffrey is, easily, the worst gay-themed film ever made. Given the generally low quality of gay-themed, films, that might seem really something, but Jeffrey easily qualifies. It is staggeringly bad.
At the start of this film, Jeffrey (Steven Weber) tells us that even though he “loves sex” he can’t cope with the confusions and pressures of a gay sex life in the age of HIV/AIDS, so he’s decided to become celibate. Fair enough, but temptation abounds, especially at the partially clad, sweaty world of the gym, where Jeffrey spends most of his free time and where he meets the flirtatious Steve (Michael T Weiss). Jeffrey plucks up the courage to go on a date with Steve, but Steve’s HIV-positive. What’s Jeffrey going to do?
I’m not sure why anybody would want to make or watch a light, ditzy comedy about AIDS, especially in 1995, when the epidemic was at its peak. More people in America - most of them gay men - died of AIDS in 1995 than in any other year (so far - fingers crossed that the meds keep working).
“Hate AIDS, Jeffrey, not life”, one of his frenemies advises him, but how can Jeffrey, or his audience, come to hate AIDS when it seems like quite a benign thing that can be easily salved with discos, dish and dating? The film doesn’t have to be morbid, and a light-hearted exploration of how the superficialities of gay life have been warped by HIV/AIDS is a compelling idea, but just making everything silly and funny sucks out every drop of potential drama, humour and interest.
And though the film tries to perch itself on an altruistic high horse, its attempt at broad comedy means it has one foot snared in the sour trap of exploitation. Everyone that appears on screen is made fun of in one way or another, and stereotype abounds. For example, the moment a character steps into a blue-lit alley where cyclone fencing and garbage bins are found, ethinc gang thugs emerge from the shadows and beat him up and steal his wallet. A Catholic priest (Nathan Lane) waits in his confession booth like a spider to jump any half good-looking guy that enters the church. Every gay character older than fourty has a tongue dripping with acid and an encyclopaedic gift for fashion and home decorating.
In the film’s one truly hilarious scene Steve comes home to an answering machine message from a freaked out Jeffrey who’s giving him the brush-off. Steve’s reaction is to immediately put on some Hi-NRG house music and start shuffling around his apartment, his body grooving and grinding the anguish away, his face grimaced with conflict until he starts twirling furiously, arms outstretched in a Wonder Woman style spin which the camera catches with an overhead shot, in case he takes off like a helicopter, I guess.
Jeffrey aims for nonsense, and is far more successful than it realises.