Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2005 5:26 pm 
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Slime-bag meets slime-bag, and they fall in lust

In Craig Lucas' The Dying Gaul, a producer takes a meeting with a screenwriter. These are Campbell Scott's and Peter Sarsgaard's ideas of a producer and screenwriter, and they come off as two slime-bags. In the California style, they smile and act mild. Surprise: the producer offers the screenwriter, who's gay, and wrote the screenplay about his lover recently dead of AIDS, a million dollars to sell the script and change his lover's sex to female, and he absolutely refuses. Just kidding. He agrees, after fussing a little. Specifically, what's wrong here is Scott's producer plays a little too nicey-nicey; Sarsgaard's writer is way too casual, not to say snotty, about being wooed by a big studio.

Sarsgaard and Scott hit it off so well after that they're soon in the sack, though Scott's happily married to a slim, elegant Patricia Clarkson, and they live in a super-fabulous hillside deco mansion with a housekeeper and two small children who, happily, have almost zero screen time, so we don't learn how spoiled or needy or, if precocious, slimy they may be.

Unfortunately Clarkson finds out about the affair, and by a very twisted method. Let's not go into details, and just say that strange things go on in "dirty chat rooms." The results are unhappy. This movie, like Sarsgaards' character's screenplay, which has the same title (don't ask) is meant to be a "weepy," but I was more ready to snort when it ended.

Lucas adapted his own play for this first directorial effort. If he adapted his own life, he's turned it into slick dross. His treatment of the gay screenwriter is generic and of the producer -- and everything about his lifestyle, including his wife -- is cliché-ridden. In the play he probably did not have people talking to each other on the phone and anonymously in a chat room at the same time, without giving themselves away -- and that is good for the play.

This is one of a new spate of movies that get lost on cell phones and the Internet, a soon-to-be-dated, and already dry, form of exposition and lifestyle-depiction. Don't expect to learn anything about screenwriting, or about human nature, from Sarsgaard's character -- or from this movie. Sarsgaard does a spot-on gay voice, but like the rest of his performance (I've said this already, but there's nothing else to say), it's smoothly generic, and therefore annoying and insulting to gay people. About his screaming orgasm, let's just say it's embarrassing to gay men, men in general, and people who have sex. The slick sunny fakeness of the whole movie is underlined by Steve Reich's haute-elevator-music electro-a cappella dirges.

At their first meeting, Scott tells Sarsgaard you could pay Tom Cruise $100 million to star in his screenplay and get Spielberg to direct it, but with a gay story, still nobody'd go to see it. Really? Sarsgaard immediately buys the argument. Do you? Well, we'll see how Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain does next month.

Once in a while I go along with one of Armond White's demolition jobs in The New York Press, and his NY Press review of The Dying Gaul is one of those times. "Award season update," White begins, with his usual subtlety: "The Dying Gaul is my front-runner for Worst Movie of the Year."

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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