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A Very Serious Person

Charles Busch, celebrated auteur and cross-dressing diva steps behind the camera and out of drag in front of it to helm and star in this autobiographical change-of-pacer, a sweet account of a 13-year-old's (P.J. Verhoest) last summer with his dying grandmother (Polly Bergen) and her gay male nurse (Busch). Will expand Busch's normal fan base into quasi-Lifetime territory.

Cast:
With: Charles Busch, P.J. Verhoest, Polly Bergen, Dana Ivey, Carl Andress, Julie Halston.

Charles Busch, celebrated auteur and cross-dressing diva extraordinaire of stage and screen (“Psycho Beach Party” “Die, Mommie, Die”) steps behind the camera and out of drag — mostly — in front of it to helm and star in this autobiographical change-of-pacer, a sweet but never cloying account of a 13-year-old’s (P.J. Verhoest) last summer with his dying grandmother (Polly Bergen) and her melancholy gay male nurse (Busch). Semi-“Serious” treatment of gay coming-of-age, the safety of conformity and inevitability of death will certainly expand Busch’s normal fan base into quasi-Lifetime territory, but loyal followers may appreciate the stretch.

Mrs. A. (Bergen) accepts her grandson, who makes kitschy knick-knacks and prays for rainy days so he can watch “Gone With the Wind.” And for his part, Gil (Verhoest) is devoted to the strong-minded woman who has raised him, even if his gay, camp optimism makes him occasionally act out, in denial of her illness. Mrs. A’s longtime companion, Betty (Dana Ivey), completes the makeshift family into which saunters Jan (Busch), dressed impeccably in elegant off-white.

Betty and Gil wait for the fireworks as the notoriously hard-to-please Mrs. A encounters her unexpectedly male nurse, but Jan turns out to be just what the doctor ordered. He hits it off famously with Mrs. A. and takes Gil under his wing.

Gil boasts the showmanship to carry off his gayness with panache (Verhoest already displaying the exhibitionistic thesping brio of a budding Busch). But Jan tends to be overprotective of the boy, urging Gil to hide his homosexuality, aware that the orphan must soon join unknown relatives in Florida.

Aficionados of Busch’s bravura femme perfs may initially be put off by his relatively staid depiction of a pony-tailed male, but the contrast between Busch’s primly repressed Danish caregiver and the freewheeling feyness of Verhoest’s burgeoning sexual identity sets off sparks all its own, while the indomitable Bergen proves again that portraying grandes dames are not the exclusive province of drag queens.

Busch, in direction and performance, deftly evokes the nostalgic resort-like atmosphere of Rockaway in the summer. He does permit himself to don drag in the amateur show Gil stages for his grandmother: Jan descends the staircase in a gauzy, glittery cloud of ethereal beauty — only to have his grand entrance upstaged by Mrs. A’s grand exit, as she is carted off to the hospital.

Tech credits belie the pic’s shoestring budget.

A Very Serious Person

Production: A Daryl Roth Production. Produced by Roth, Richard Guay. Executive producer, Starec Prods. Directed by Charles Busch. Screenplay, Busch, Carl Andress.

Crew: Camera (color, DV-to-HD), Joseph Parlagreco; editor, Frank Reynolds; music, Andrew Sherman; production designer, Dara Wishingrad; costume designer, Dona Granata; sound, Coll Anderson; casting, Carol Hanzel. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (NY, NY, competing), May 5, 2006. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: With: Charles Busch, P.J. Verhoest, Polly Bergen, Dana Ivey, Carl Andress, Julie Halston.

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