The glittering blend of disparate elements that made Paul Rudnick’s Jeffrey an Off Broadway gem several seasons back doesn’t throw off quite the same sparkle on the bigscreen. Onstage, the story of a 30-ish gay New Yorker who has sworn off sex careened from broad (and hilarious) sketch comedy to scissors-sharp camp wit and was underscored by a touch of poignance and humanity. Onscreen, Jeffrey doesn’t so much careen as amble, a pleasant stroll over flat terrain.
Christopher Ashley, who directed the original stage play and makes his movie debut here, doesn’t always seem comfortable with the medium. A more confident directorial hand might have resisted the film-school reliance on title cards, slow-motion glances and action frozen to allow character asides to the audience.
No sooner has he gone on the sexual wagon, than Jeffrey (Steven Weber) meets the man of his dreams, Steve (Michael T. Weiss), an amiable HIV-positive hunk whose initial gym workout with the hapless and horny Jeffrey is none-too-subtly infused with sexual tension. Jeffrey naturally runs scared, and much of the film follows the pursuit-rejection mating dance of the two men.
Along the episodic way, Jeffrey attends a socialite’s country-themed Hoedown for AIDS, a New Age revival meeting (with Sigourney Weaver as a Marianne Williamson clone), and New York’s gay pride parade, where Jeffrey encounters a supremely tacky New Jersey mother (Olympia Dukakis) marching in pride of her ‘pre-operative transsexual lesbian son.’ Nathan Lane appears briefly as a gay, sex-crazed Catholic priest.
Fortunately, the terrific ensemble cast, headed by a charming Weber, sees the picture through its lesser moments, and Rudnick’s barbs and one-liners score even when their contexts don’t.