Love! Valour! Compassion!

on May 16, 1997 by Zorianna Kit
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   What initially appears to be the latest in a growing trend of gay-themed cinema, "Love! Valour! Compassion!" actually reaches mainstream appeal by showing how the human heart--regardless of race, color or sexual preference--must challenge itself in finding new ways to stay true and connected in the complicated '90s. In this adaptation of Terrence McNally's Tony-winning play, eight gay male friends rendezvous at a sprawling Victorian home on a private lake over three summer holiday weekends, where they fall in love and fall from grace, hurt and forgive, celebrate strengths and chastise weaknesses. They form an assortment of hilarious and inspiring permutations on contemporary relationships and even don tu-tus for a good cause.
   Jon Mantello, who directed the stage version, makes his film directing debut, and the result has the look and feel of a low-budget movie with its use of a single location--lush country grounds on a remote estate--which effectively creates intimacy without ever stifling. There's no need for more than the one setting, because the film's power comes from the actors, most of whom were in the original New York cast. Included in that ensemble is John Glover, who won a Tony for his ingenious double role as polar opposite twins John and James Jeckyll. The only "Hollywood" addition is Jason Alexander, who delivers a superb turn as the flamboyant Buzz, "the love child of Judy Garland and Liberace."
   An unnecessary flash-forward sequence (complete with voiceover) near the conclusion breaks the mood and flow of the piece, but the solid cast overrides the flaw. The octet succeeds in conveying a touching, often funny, and at times heartbreaking story that beautifully celebrates the fragility of life, love and the human spirit.    Starring Jason Alexander, John Glover and John Benjamin Hickey. Directed by Joe Mantello. Written by Terrence McNally. Produced by Doug Chapin and Barry Krost. A Fine Line release. Drama/comedy. Rated R for graphic nudity, some sexuality and strong language. Running time: 115 min
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