FILMS

Buddies in bad times

The devastation of AIDS reaches the big screen

DIANE TURBIDE July 9 1990
FILMS

Buddies in bad times

The devastation of AIDS reaches the big screen

DIANE TURBIDE July 9 1990

Buddies in bad times

The devastation of AIDS reaches the big screen

LONGTIME COMPANION Directed by Norman René

What is surprising about Longtime Companion is that it took so long for such a movie to be made. With AIDS getting massive publicity, a film about the devastation of the disease during the past 10 years would seem to be a natural for the big screen. But, until now, only a few low-budget features have appeared. Several made-for-TV movies about AIDS have mostly avoided ordinary homosexuals, focusing instead on such celebrities as the late Rock Hudson or Ryan White, the hemophiliac teenager who died last April. Longtime Companion, the first American film to feature homosexual friends and lovers coping with the profound changes that the vims has caused, has no famous actors. But its excellent cast and intelligent script may succeed in winning a mainstream audience.

Written by successful Broadway playwright Craig Lucas, the movie takes its title from the euphemism often used in obituaries to describe the surviving lover of a homosexual man. That phrase becomes increasingly relevant as the movie unfolds, highlighting one day every year from 1981 to 1989. The diary format serves as both a social history of the disease and an intimate portrait of how a group of men adjust to the fact that death from AIDS has become their longtime companion.

The movie opens as the first newspaper stories appear about a rare cancer afflicting only homosexuals. Quickly, it shows several men as they react with fear, unease and even scorn. At first, it is a little difficult to tell the characters apart—they all seem impossibly genial and handsome. But the two most affecting figures quickly emerge. Campbell Scott plays Willy, an amiable, inarticulate fitness instructor who gradually overcomes his revulsion for the friends who are dying of AIDS. And Bruce Davison is stunning as David, the wealthy hedonist who patiently nurses his lover, Sean, as he deteriorates from a witty scriptwriter into a blind, incontinent skeleton.

But amid the suffering, there is humor. And' as the deaths mount, so does the victims’ resolve to lobby for better medical treatment and against prejudices that deny them jobs, housing and insurance. While it suffers from sanitization—no one howls in rage or anger— Longtime Companion is long overdue.

DIANE TURBIDE