Ostensibly based on an autobiographical "true story" and the like-titled play by author-thesp Leslie Jordan, "Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel" emerges far more redolent of composite fiction cliches -- running the gamut from Tennessee Williams to Hubert Selby Jr. -- than it does credible experience. The fault lies somewhat with execution that remains stubbornly theatrical, despite some game performances and design contribs; but even in a more fluid package, this mix of camp comedy and bathos would seem artificial. Prospects are slight for what plays like a retro tears-of-a-gay-clown vanity project; in any case, pic's stagy nature is better suited to the small screen.

Ostensibly based on an autobiographical “true story” and the like-titled play by author-thesp Leslie Jordan, “Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel” emerges far more redolent of composite fiction cliches — running the gamut from Tennessee Williams to Hubert Selby Jr. — than it does credible experience. The fault lies somewhat with execution that remains stubbornly theatrical, despite some game performances and design contribs; but even in a more fluid package, this mix of camp comedy and bathos would seem artificial. Prospects are slight for what plays like a retro tears-of-a-gay-clown vanity project; in any case, pic’s stagy nature is better suited to the small screen.

The framing device finds Jordan’s protag (unnamed beyond “The Storyteller”) whisked away by ambulance, having OD’d. Waking in a small, all-white room, he proceeds to brief God (a single spotlight) how he came to this sorry end. A brief childhood flashback shows a precocious lad (well played by Luke Eberl) already in lust with the local “bad boys,” to his parents’ distress. The narrative then skips forward three decades, when Storyteller — now a swishy, pint-size, middle-aged drama queen evidently self-modeled on Truman Capote — finally left his family home for 1976 Atlanta, whose exploding gay culture then pegged it as the “San Francisco of the South.”

Kicked out of a bar for typically soused and stupid behavior, Storyteller finds himself cooling heels alongside a fellow misfit he dubs “Miss Make-Do” (Erin Chandler). A vivacious blonde on the run from a debutante past and frosty socialite mother (Michelle Phillips), Miss M. broadens protag’s substance-abuse palette to include a vast array of recreational drugs. Their supply bankrolled by her stripping gigs, the duo become inseparable partymates, sharing a room in the titular Chelsea-like hotel otherwise populated by hustlers, drag queens and miscellaneous outcasts.

This idyll, such as it is, grows shaky when Miss M. takes up with a coke-dealing boyfriend (Carlos Gomez) as possessive as he is paranoid. Tossed out, Storyteller finds his own unstable protector in the form of Tripper (Mark Pellegrino), a classic rough-trade type — ex-con, sometime pimp, uneducated, tattooed, muscular, heroin-addicted, gorgeous, violent, etc. — who’s hetero yet treats protag as “my little doll.”

Their platonic-soulmate relationship, played out in what appears to be a basement garage, slows already talky, indulgently paced narrative to near-stasis, until mutual overdose on “bad dope” sends Tripper to the morgue and Storyteller to the hospital.

“My God, why has thou forsaken me?” he cries to the spotlight-deity, who must be pretty bored by now. However faithful to personal experience this saga may be, Jordan badly overestimates the interest and sympathy his alter ego’s whiny victimhood can generate. We’re meant to find Storyteller bright, charming and sensitive, but neither writing nor performance is winning.

Before it collapses into protracted postures of drug-addicted and unrequited-love despair, pic is tolerable, if seldom inspired, as another trot through ’70s lifestyle excesses.

Chandler, doing a Teri Garr number as vulnerable ditz Miss M., infuses so-so material with considerable comic spark and nuance; Pellegrino works hard to make Tripper more than a one-dimensional Outlaw Stud fantasy. Supporting perfs are variable, with most guest names (John Ritter as a priest, shrill Sheryl Lee Ralph and amusing Kathy Kinney as two pushy nurses) limited to brief, broad turns. Faring better are thesps playing the Hotel’s eccentric denizens, yet promised down-and-out ensemble comedy never develops.

First-time feature helmer Julia Jay Pierrepont II gives lenser Sacha Sarchielli leeway to super-saturate the lighting, and even move the camera once in a while. That aside, “Hotel’s” rhythmless pacing, attenuated scenes and derivative, theatrical verbiage seem barely translated from stage to screen.

Production design and costumes do eke considerable ’70s-kitsch mileage within an otherwise stilted low-budget package. Dan Gilboy’s routine synth score is abetted by some great rock tunes — including Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done” and the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for My Man” — that nonetheless underline action in the most obvious manner possible.

Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel

Production

A Pierrepont Prods. and Pershing Point Prods. presentation. Produced by Julia Jay Pierrepont II, Erin Chandler. Co-producers, Grant Gilmore, Elizabeth Carney. Directed by Julia Jay Pierrepont II. Screenplay, Leslie Jordan, based on his play.

Crew

Camera (color), Sacha Sarchielli; editor, Ila von Hasperg; music, Dan Gilboy; music supervisor, Jonnie Barnett; production designer, Cecil Gentry; costume designer, Chantal Thomas; set decorator, Alyssa Coppelman; sound (Dolby Digital), Al Sameul, Derek Luss; assistant director, Grant Gilmore; casting, Lisa Paldone, James Paldone. Reviewed at Roxie Cinema, San Francisco, May 31, 2000. (In S.F. Lesbian & Gay Festival, Seattle Film Festival.) Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Storyteller - Leslie Jordan Miss Make-Do - Erin Chandler Tripper - Mark Pellegrino Nico - Carlos Gomez Young Storyteller - Luke Eberl
With: John Ritter, Marilu Henner, Michelle Phillips, Kathy Kinney, Arthur Hiller, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Patrick O'Neal, Kris Kamm, Jesse Petrick, Adam Wylie.

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