Film

A TOUCH OF CLASS

Kyle MacLachlan channels Cary Grant via Canada in a dazzling comic romance

Brian D. Johnson July 19 2004
Film

A TOUCH OF CLASS

Kyle MacLachlan channels Cary Grant via Canada in a dazzling comic romance

Brian D. Johnson July 19 2004

A TOUCH OF CLASS

Film

Kyle MacLachlan channels Cary Grant via Canada in a dazzling comic romance

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

FOR SOMEONE who looks so straight, he’s landed the weirdest roles. In David Lynch’s Blue Velvet he was the small-town sleuth who received oral sex at knifepoint from Isabella Rossellini. In Lynch’s Twin Peaks he was the FBI agent who worshipped “damn good coffee,” between deciphering oracular riddles from the Log Lady. More recently, as Charlotte’s hunky surgeon in Sex and the City, he was the catch with a catch—an ideal husband afflicted by impotence. Kyle MacLachian is the first to admit he’s had a tough time shaking

off his typecast image. “In the early days,” he told me, “I was continually frustrated. It was important for me to try to be in Hollywood. And they thought I was odd or quirky or eccentric or just flat-out weird, because of my association with David.”

His hair smoothly coiffed, his tall frame clad in blue jeans and an Oxford cloth shirt, MacLachian has handsome, square-jawed features that, up close, seem strangely soft and fragile. He speaks with a quiet reserve, a politeness that’s almost, well, Canadian. And it has taken a Canadian filmmaker to finally cast this debonair actor with the retro charm as a Hollywood leading man, albeit a dead one. In Touch of Pink, MacLachian plays the legendary Cary Grant—or at least the spirit of Cary Grant, as the imaginary friend of a closeted gay Ismaili Canadian.

It’s a buoyant, graceful performance, executed with a panache far removed from the deadpan underworld of David Lynch. And it’s the icing on a multi-layered confection that marks a kind of milestone—a Canadian romantic comedy that actually works. Considering Canada’s trade surplus of comedians, you’d think we’d have figured out how to make funny movies about romance. Yet after 25 years—from In Praise of OlderWomen (1978) to The Republic of Love (2003)—the chemistry has been as elusive as the secret of cold fusion. With his feature debut, however, writer-director Ian Iqbal Rashid succeeds admirably. Made for just $4 million, Touch of Pink created a sensation last January at the Sundance Film Festival, which led to a U.S. distribution deal and a flush

of Hollywood interest in Rashid’s career.

His semi-autobiographical script marries two ubiquitous genres, the coming-out story and the culture-clash comedy—along the lines of Mambo Italiano meets Monsoon Wedding. Alim (Jimi Mistry), an Ismaili Canadian living in London, works as a photographer on movie sets, and shares a flat with his gay lover, Giles (Kristen Holden-Ried), an English economist. Over Giles’ protests, Alim remains stubbornly in the closet, where

he communes with a secret mentor, the imaginary Cary Grant. As Alim’s family prepares a lavish wedding for his cousin back home in Toronto, his mother (Suleka Mathew) flies in for a visit. And Alim improvises a frantic charade, casting Giles as his straight roommate, and pretending to be engaged to Giles’ sister (Liisa Repo-Martell).

The film feels shaky off the top, but once Rashid gets the plot into gear, he guides it with great finesse. The dialogue crackles with repartee. The narrative sparks on multiple

levels, like the title—aside from the gay inference, Touch of Pink alludes to the Cary Grant/Doris Day movie That Touch of Mink, and to the peaches-and-cream tint of an English complexion. Meanwhile MacLachlan’s Cary, tricked out in a repertoire of costumes from his films, serves as a sardonic commentator. “It’s the oldest story in the book,” he muses. “Boy meets boy, boy loses boy and goes to Toronto.” Then he adds, “I don’t consider Toronto a holiday destination.” The Cary Grant character provides an ironic layer of comic fantasy: he’s the Hollywood fiction that Alim has to disown if he’s going to come out, and come of age. But the other actors work in a firmly realistic vein— via some contortions of culture-blind casting. Holden-Ried and Repo-Martell, both Canadians, do an impressive job of portraying sexy Brits. And as a Muslim Doris Day manqué, Vancouver’s Suleka Mathew (Da Vinci’s Inquest) steals the movie with a wily, seductive performance that overrides the easy stereotype of the overbearing mother. The cast’s weakest link is Mistry, who sulks his way through the lead role as if being led to his funeral. But then, this British actor fits right into a tradition of self-loathing antiheroes in English Canadian cinema going all the way back to The Apprenticeship ofDuddyKravitz (1974).

Touch of Pink, however, is a Canadian movie we haven’t seen before. Wittier than Bollywood/Hollywood, more sophisticated than Mambo Italiano, it’s a sweet crowdpleaser with a sharp intelligence. “I wanted to make a pleasurable, old-fashioned screwball comedy,” says Rashid. What’s distinctly not old-fashioned about the film are a couple of torrid gay kissing scenes, which had Holden-Ried’s father burying his face in his hands at the Toronto premiere, and which may unnerve mainstream audiences. But the film’s effervescent tone and vintage style mark a departure from the sexual

gothic obsessions of Canadian cinema.

“I admire Canadian films; I love old Hollywood movies,” says Rashid. “Preston Sturges is my favourite writer of any genre. And going to England allowed me to emulate that, as opposed to trying to become the next Atom Egoyan. What was great about the U.K. is that no one could figure me out. There I was, this brown-skinned person with a North American accent. They couldn’t read me in terms of class. It was hugely liberating to not be able to be diagnosed. It allowed me to figure out who I was.”

Rashid says the film echoes his own comingout experience, in “a culture where there

isn’t even a word for homosexuality that isn’t pejorative.” It also reflects his “coming out” as a Canadian. This movie is a CanadaBritish co-production, but at one point, to raise U.S. money, there was talk of shifting Alim’s home to New York. “It never felt right,” says Rashid. “That family could only be a Toronto family. The comfort of assimilation while keeping your cultural identity—it doesn’t exist in the States in the same way.” Meanwhile, through this circuitous Canadian conduit, MacLachlan found a piece of

his identity in a Hollywood ghost. “My look,” he says, “really isn’t of this time. I don’t know what time it’s from, but it’s not from now.” As a leading man out of joint with his age, he could identify with the bygone dignity of Cary Grant. “There was a point where he fell out of favour,” he says, “because there was a whole new style coming in with Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift— self-involved, violent, emotional, out of control. And that was the opposite of what he was about.” For Cary Grant, and Kyle MacLachlan, acting demands a certain decorum, a touch of diplomacy. And what could be more Canadian than that? li1]