His Guy Friday
There is a phrase bandied about that other film industry -- "gay for pay" -- that means exactly what it says. The queer thing is, this switch-hitting work ethic obviously applies to the "straight" industry as well, since actors not infrequently launch their careers, or rev 'em up, by playing gay. Witness recently Heath Ledger (the TV series Sweat, the forthcoming Brokeback Mountain), Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (B. Monkey, etc., etc.), and John Ritter (Sling Blade). A few years prior, Donald Sutherland even beat Nicole Kidman to the fake nose while playing deliriously androgynous in Fellini's astounding Casanova, and now -- no surprise -- Ledger's set to do that role again. Then of course there's the cheekbone brigade of Orlando Bloom, Ioan Gruffudd, and Jude Law -- a triumvirate of Wilde boys, "Oscar" candidates, indeed.
To this phenomenon we can now add Kyle MacLachlan, that casting director's dreamboat of Dune and Showgirls fame, who now returns, quite convincingly, as Cary Grant. ("What?" a shocked few may ask. "Was Cary Grant really . . ." Apparently. Took LSD a lot too.) In Touch of Pink (punning off Grant's That Touch of Mink), the iconic cinematic southpaw appears in spirit form to a young movie lover, providing life lessons, or at least deliciously clipped quips. Replete with frosted temples and assorted satin housecoats (plus the odd costume from Gunga Din), MacLachlan's a real treat here. Even the sturdiest heterosexual will have trouble not grinning as he glibly chirps lines like, "Your people do have a fondness for the brassy blondes, don't they?"
Grant's ward here is Alim (Jimi Mistry, East Is East, Ella Enchanted), a cineaste and still photographer who cultivates dreams of Golden Age Hollywood from the unlikely vantage point of London. An Ismailian by birth and a Canadian by nationality, Alim is also gay, living with his own brassy blonde named Giles (statuesque TV star Kristen Holden-Ried), an economist who's not aware that the star of Notorious frequents Alim's waking dreams. Although Giles's eye (along with other body parts) tends to wander when a Herculean honey makes the scene, the two unlikely heroes are at least as in love as other classic couples such as Bogie and Bacall, or Mork and Mindy.
Of course chaos arrives in the form of Alim's widowed, traditionalist mother, Nuru (Indian-Canadian star Suleka Mathew), who visits London supposedly to hang out and boss her way into the kitchen. Her actual M.O. has more to do with getting Alim to marry, since her sister Dolly (Theatresports founder Veena Sood) has a rather dubious son, Khaled (Raoul Bhaneja, Ararat), who's getting hitched and prompting competitive sentiments. Does Nuru know her son is gay? Oh, heck no. Is Giles headed for the closet during her stay, while his sporty sister Delia (the very funny Liisa Repo-Martell) pretends to be Alim's girlfriend? You betcha.
If this setup sounds remarkably like Play It Again, Sam meets The Wedding Banquet, fair enough, but writer-director (and, notably, award-winning poet) Ian Iqbal Rashid keeps scenes lively and unpredictable throughout. While there's plenty of homoeroticism strewn hither and thither, his top priority is giddy, old-fashioned entertainment, laced with catchy dialogue. (Witness as Alim's mother offers the weary old saw that "Laughter is the best medicine," to which her son instantly responds, "I must be in the placebo group.") As with most satisfying comedy, there's a sadness underlying the yuks, and Alim's situation, while quite comic, is bound to strike home for everyone who feels a couple of their puzzle pieces have gone astray.
Another refreshing aspect is the film's utter nonchalance toward staid Americanisms; while the movie's attitude is decidedly gay (with no shortage of passionate kissing), it's also refreshingly global in its outlook. With its loyalties divided among South Asia, Muslim culture, British culture, and Canadiana ("I don't consider Toronto a holiday destination!" announces persnickety Grant), there's a rich worldliness here beneath the frothy giggles. As with Bend It Like Beckham, audiences may go for the attractive whitey (Keira or Kyle), but they'll emerge with an expanded perception of the world beyond their expectations.
As for the romantic angle, well, gay or not gay, it is admittedly a bit on the cheesy side, but Alim and Giles still prove significantly smarter than any Tom Hanks pabulum we're force-fed every couple of years. Whatever your orientation, these bosom buddies are bound to charm you, and perhaps by joining them, the very talented MacLachlan may continue to find work. Hee-hee.
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