Canadian theater maverick Brad Fraser makes a solid transition to film helming with “Leaving Metropolis,” a witty, entertaining and sometimes sexy drama drawn from his well-traveled stage script “Poor Super Man.” (Title was axed in favor of the blander new one to avoid legal wrath of Warner Bros., which owns the cinematic Man of Steel.) As with Denys Arcand’s 1994 Fraser adaptation “Love and Human Remains,” a certain measure of screen naturalism softens the author’s occasional tendencies toward glib sensationalism, arriving at a better emotional balance — even if the results still only run so deep. Tale of a gay Winnipeg artist’s affair with a married man should have no problem drumming up arthouse biz among urban gay male auds worldwide, with OK prospects further along in ancillary.
Given Fraser’s rep at home as a bourgeois-shocking enfant terrible (albeit one approaching middle-age), it may surprise that in its current incarnation, the film that “Super Man” resembles most is Arthur Hiller’s groundbreaking yet squaresville “Making Love” from two decades past.While the author goes for an edgier feel, with bitchier lines and more explicit lust replacing that earlier pic’s teary romanticism, gist is essentially the same: Jaded gay man unexpectedly falls in love with happily married one, causing major soul-searching for all involved.
In this case, protag is David (Troy Ruptash), a successful, “controversial” (of course) painter whose well has temporarily run dry. Having lost many friends to AIDS and settled into perhaps too familiar a social pattern with remaining ones Kryla (Lynda Boyd) and Shannon (Thom Allison), he decides a dose of the real world is needed to end his creatively blocked isolation.
Signing on as a waiter at the glorified diner owned by yuppie marrieds Violet (Cherilee Taylor) and Matt (Vincent Corazza), he puzzles them with his insouciance regarding limited pay/hours, and delights them with his surfeit of knowledge on decor and promotional ideas. Meanwhile, he enjoys slumming as a regular working stiff — getting artistic inspiration in the bargain, much of it inspired by the puppyish, matey Matt.
David tries to prevent anyone from his “other life” finding out about the diner. But aggressive newspaper columnist Kryla barges in one day, just to tease her incognito pal. Then when the restaurant looks headed toward financial trouble, she lets David coerce her into giving the establishment some buzz-making column space.
The overlap between his “two lives” grows more awkward when David realizes he’s falling for the guileless, hunky Matt who, confused about his own needs, is attracted as well.
Resulting secret affair is a risky one, with not only Violet growing suspicious about hubby’s late nights out, but Kryla sniffing around, too, in a manner not unlike marital possessiveness. Facing middle age with an ebbing past of broken hetero relationships, she’s bitter and a tad alcoholic — a volatile mix that makes her eventual discovery of David’s illicit romance very bad news.
Meanwhile, elegant transsexual Shannon (who’s moved into David’s spacious loft) is facing crises of her own. A long-planned-for sex change operation (male-to-female) risks being put on indefinite hold due to HIV-positive status.
All dilemmas reach critical mass in the last half hour, as skittish Matt breaks off with David, then feels called upon to ‘fess all to Violet when the nude portraits David has painted of him come due for a highly public unveiling. Messy aftermath leaves all central figures a little older and wiser, if no less vulnerable.
Well-played characters are drawn in decisive strokes, even if pic’s headlong progress allows little room for psychological backstories or breathing space. What Fraser excels at is orchestrating conflict and penning needle-sharp lines (e.g. David’s brutal riposte “How did I ever drown in someone so shallow?”). Individual scenes occasionally retain a too-theatrical air, though able input from lenser Daniel Vincelette and production designer Craig Sandells’ busy interiors effectively combat that effect.
While stylistically unremarkable, feature does present Fraser as a perfectly capable screen helmer, with his stage emphasis on narrative drive translating intact to the new medium.
Only weak points in design package are soundtrack of mediocre rock instrumentals and bland pop tunes, as well as “David’s” oil paintings (actually done by Kirsten Johnson), which seem a bit schlocky for an allegedly cutting-edge artist. (But then, character admits: “It’s easy to be famous in Winnipeg.”)
Modestly budgeted pic’s tech aspects are accomplished.