Friday, September 24, 2010

Underrated Movie #93: Love and Death on Long Island

Title: Love and Death on Long Island
Year: 1996
Director: Richard Kwietniowski
Writers: Kwietniowski, based on the novel by Gilbert Adair
Stars: John Hurt, Jason Priestley, Fiona Loewi, Maury Chaykin

The Story: A tweedy English novelist and widower goes to see an E.M. Forster movie but accidentally walks into a theater showing a movie called Hotpants College 2. To his great surprise, the heretofore heterosexual author finds himself instantly smitten with the hunky young teen idol star. His new obsession takes over his whole life until he decides to move to the Hamptons town where the young star lives and lie his way into his life.

How it Came to be Underrated: This got great reviews at the time but Kwietniowski disappeared again afterwards as quickly as he appeared, and his promising debut was mostly forgotten. He finally had a second movie that came out a few years ago, Owning Mahoney, which got pretty good reviews but I haven’t seen it.

Why It’s Great:

  1. Hurt has had a long, great career as a character actor, but this was a rare, wonderful chance for him to finally take the lead and he proves more than up to the task. He’ll probably always be remembered most for his fatal stomachache in Alien, but this is his best screen role.
  2. The central joke here is that De’Ath is merely the last name of Hurt’s character. Let’s say that you’re a British writer. You know that there are people living on your island with the actual last name De’Ath (pronounced Day-Oth). But do you dare name a character that? It’s a bold move. Here it’s used cleverly to falsely foreshadow an unhappy ending that never comes. The title is not just a reference to Death in Venice, but also a pun on how these things usually go. Even in independent film, hell— especially in independent film, repressed gay desire unleashed usually results in a bloody end. In real life, it tends to make people much, much happier.
  3. In order to pursue his absurd quest to befriend his Hollywood crush, Hurt must surmount obstacles that would challenge anyone, but especially a hapless twit like himself. Nevertheless his unacknowledged desire is so strong that he manages to solve them all with ever-increasing cleverness. We the audience come to cheer each of his mini-triumphs. Even the most illogical problems must be solved logically, and that’s always fun to watch.
  4. This is a hard movie to make because the problem is so internal, but Hurt’s benign obsession is dramatized in all sorts of entertaining ways. In order to test his newfound knowledge, he imagines himself on one of those very tough British quiz shows, giving all the answers he’s memorized about his crush from “Teen Beat” type magazines.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Other underrated “late coming out” movies include John Sayles’s Lianna and a Canadian movie called When Night is Falling.

How Available Is It?: It has a bare-bones DVD.

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