An upbeat dramatic comedy about a young ballet dancer facing AIDS, Nancy Meckler’s “Indian Summer” would have been much better had it gone with its initial easy flow instead of progressively trying to make points. Often likable , sometimes involving but ultimately uneven, the film is just about held together by a strong performance from Antony Sher amid variable playing from the rest of the cast and a bumpy script by Martin Sherman. Autumnal rather than warm business looks likely for the pic, which drew a polite reception opening the Locarno fest.
This is a much more accessible film than Meckler’s freshman effort, “Sister My Sister,” with none of that pic’s strained artiness and a better sense of flow and screen values. But the U.S.-born, London-based helmer, whose background is solidly in legit, needed a couple more rewrites before stepping on the set.
Tonio (rising thesp Jason Flemyng) is the brilliant young star of a London ballet company whose future is all behind it. The dotty founder, Luna (Dorothy Tutin), is in the grip of Alzheimer’s, and its former star-turned-choreographer, Ramon (Anthony Higgins), dies of AIDS. Tonio, whose own lover died a year earlier and who is also HIV-positive, decides to carry on regardless, re-creating Ramon’s controversial gay ballet “Indian Summer” as the company’s final production.
Into Tonio’s already full life comes the middle-aged, unathletic Jack (Sher), a therapist who’s the complete opposite of the self-centered, career-driven dancer. Finally giving into Jack’s declarations of love. Tonio agrees to a vacation in Greece. On their return, however, both have to face up to Tonio’s declining physical powers and Jack’s all-consuming belief that he can help the younger man.
There are several nice ideas in the script that in the early going lend the pic a freshness and vitality. Rather than being a self-pitying wimp, Tonio is drawn as an egocentric, not particularly sympathetic character who takes being adored for granted and arrogantly assumes that his genius is beyond the reach even of AIDS. Faced with the emotionally upfront Jack, he’s slow to commit to an honest relationship.
We get a glimpse of how much better the script could have been in a well-written heart-to-heart on the Acropolis, with its pointed but natural dialogue, unlike many other scenes that run down the laundry list of AIDS and gay issues rather than push forward the drama. Chief culprits here are some of Jack’s political outbursts and a silly scene in which a drunk Tonio and a lesbian colleague (Diane Parish) try to have sex, only to conclude that, well their hearts aren’t really in it.
Sher’s sheer skill overcomes many of script’s weaker moments, and draws a character who’s alternately funny and touching. The actor is very much the dramatic ballast in the picture, which otherwise tends to float hither and thither. Flemyng, though clearly no dancer, is OK as the cocky Tonio but is generally only as good or bad as the script.
As the troupe’s eccentric founder, Tutin contribs one of her patented grande dame performances. Philip Voss is excellent in a small role as a retired dancer.
Technically, the Channel 4 production has a movie look, often enhanced by Peter Salem’s score. Sher and Flemyng share one visually discreet but pretty raunchy sex scene.