Jeffrey

on August 04, 1995 by Jean Oppenheimer
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   Sacriligeous, funny, imaginative and outrageous, "Jeffrey" probably won't play in Peoria. A musical comedy/romance about AIDS, the film is sure to offend a whole range of viewers; anyone who found "Priest" shocking should definitely stay away. Liberal-minded moviegoers, however, will find this a delightful romp, even considering the subject matter.
   Playwright/screenwriter Paul Rudnick ("The Addams Family") has adapted his Off-Broadway hit, but the story is so visually and creatively orchestrated it's difficult to imagine it was ever confined to a stage. The characters occasionally address the camera, the action behind them freezing until they step back into the scene; thoughts and daydreams spin off into elaborate fantasy sequences filled with musical numbers and Busby Berkeley-style dance formations (with even a game show called "It's Just Sex!"); and a running gag features Mother Theresa.
   The tale concerns a young gay actor/waiter, Jeffrey (Steven Weber) who decides to become celibate because AIDS has taken the fun out of sex. Of course, that's when he meets Mr. Right (Michael T. Weiss), a handsome and good-natured lug who is HIV-positive. Jeffrey's best friend Sterling (Patrick Stewart), an acerbic interior decorator, encourages him to give in to love.
   The four leads are wonderful. Weber proves enormously appealing as the hero who keeps making wrong decisions but nonetheless keeps the audience on his side. Both Weiss and Bryan Batt, as Sterling's AIDS-stricken lover, do exemplary work; Stewart gives an archly humorous performance that becomes increasingly moving as the story progresses. The supporting cast fares less well, especially Sigourney Weaver, who can't quite get the parody right for her Marianne Williamson-style self-help guru.
   Gay sexuality remains a taboo subject throughout much of contemporary America, and boxoffice receipts for "Jeffrey"could easily reflect that fact. But, for its own part, the film is a warm and humorous--as well as a sad and moving--exploration of all-too-human relationships.    Starring Steven Weber, Patrick Stewart and Michael T. Weiss. Directed by Christopher Ashley. Written by Paul Rudnick. Produced by Mark Balsam, Mitchell Maxwell and Victoria Maxwell. An Orion Classics release. Romance/musical comedy. Rated R for strong sexuality and language. Running time: 92 min.
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