Saturday, September 10, 2011

Billy, Don't Be a Romantic!: "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" (1998)

Sean Hayes plays Billy, a struggling gay photographer who falls for one of his models, who may or may not be homosexual.

Billy hangs out with best friend George (a hilarious Meredith Scott Lynn) in Los Angeles, where he moved after escaping from conservative Indiana. He is seeing shallow but hunky Fernando (Armando Valdes-Kennedy), who is already in a committed relationship. Their encounters are purely physical, and Billy longs for something more. Good friend Perry (Richard Ganoung) agrees to mentor Billy, providing him with equipment and money for his dream project- to photograph reenacted scenes from great Hollywood romance classics.

Billy also meets Gabriel (Brad Rowe), a gorgeous waiter who gives Billy mixed signals about his sexuality. Gabriel has a girlfriend, plays in a heavy metal band, but feels comfortable with Billy and his gay friends, as if he hasn't come out yet. Gabriel is also introduced to successful photographer Rex (the late Paul Bartel), who suddenly decides to use Gabriel in an upcoming underwear ad, pulling the rug out from under Billy's plans. Soon, Billy is pursuing Gabriel, confiding to Perry, and making a fool of himself over this perfect man.

Sean Hayes does not just replay his "Will & Grace" character, Jack. Billy can be morose, emotional, and his stories about his life, illustrated with Polaroid pictures, are excellent. Rowe is also convincing as Gabriel, even the audience is kept in the dark about how he feels about Billy. The supporting cast is very good, as well.

My one complaint is O'Haver's sometimes stilted direction. Once in a while, characters will stand in line, facing the camera and talking to each other, as if they were on a small off-off-Braodway stage. O'Haver does use the camera well with the fun fantasy sequences, but many of his basic dialogue scenes are awkward and underlit.

"Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" is not a laugh-out-loud raucous comedy, but a smiling romance that does not make apologies about the sexual orientation of its characters -- nor should it. (* * * *) out of five stars.