Boy meets boy in sweet 'Kiss' Review: In 'Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss,' a photographer is looking for a new life, and love, in Los Angeles.

September 04, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Gay film has come a long way since tortured coming-out sagas and rank exploitation flicks: Witness "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," as breezy and charming a romantic comedy to grace screens lately, whose protagonists happen to be gay but who possess universal appeal.

Billy is an Indiana-born photographer who is trying to make it as an artist in Los Angeles and, just maybe, find true love. He's a good guy who has a penchant for bad boys -- his current beau is in another, more committed relationship -- and he shares his travails with his roommate sob-sister Georgiana, whose lovable dud of a boyfriend is so straight he doesn't even get the high camp of "From Here to Eternity."

Billy, portrayed by Sean P. Hayes with an ingratiatingly natural wit and ease, is in search of a model for his next project, based on the great screen kisses of all time. He's enlisted a drag queen to play the girl in the scenes, but he needs the right guy. Gabriel, a handsome coffee shop waiter who resembles a slightly off-kilter Brad Pitt, is just right. In the course of persuading Gabriel to pose, Billy falls for him -- a fact made more complicated by Gabriel's absent girlfriend and his decidedly ambivalent-seeming behavior around Billy.

Will Billy finally get the screen kiss he's always wanted with Gabriel? This is the central, gossamer-thin question of "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," which was written and directed with sprightly color and humor by Tommy O'Haver.

While following the narrative conventions of cherchez l'homme to the letter, O'Haver has cast such Warholian legends as Holly Woodlawn and Paul Bartel for underground credibility. (And he makes a gentle case for monogamy in a culture that hasn't always embraced it. Early in the film, Billy announces that he is "a misfit of a different kind -- a romantic" and that he craves nothing more than a "house in the country with a white picket fence." He's queer, he's cozy, get used to it!)

O'Haver has found a game bunch of actors for his enterprise. Rowe is good at conveying insecurity and vanity at the same time, and Meredith Scott Lynn is bouncily genuine as Billy's best girlfriend. But the real standout here is Hayes, who proves to be an extremely gifted actor, comic and otherwise, especially in Billy's elaborate movie-inspired dream sequences. (A ballroom dance featuring Billy and Gabriel in tuxedos is especially funny and touching.)

Some interstitial scenes featuring three ungainly drag queens lip-syncing to bubble-gum love ballads drag the story down, but don't quash the essential point of "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss": As Billy's Polaroid works indicate, the fun of love is watching it develop.

'Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss'

Starring Sean P. Hayes, Brad Rowe, Meredith Scott Lynn, Richard Ganoyung, Holly Woodlawn, Paul Bartel

Directed by Tommy O'Haver

Rated R (language, some sexuality and drug content)

Released by Trimark Pictures

Running time: 92 minutes

Sun Score: ***

Pub Date: 9/04/98

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