Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss

(Tommy O’Haver, USA, 1998)


Gay romantic comedies, from Lie Down with Dogs (1995) to Relax, It’s Just Sex (1998), have become a staple of independent American cinema.

A formulaic sameness has descended upon these movies: apart from the obligatory, wayward search for true love, there is always a large social group moving from dinner parties to gallery openings; the camp worship of old Hollywood movies; and a couple of harmless straights on the edge of the extended-family circle.

Modest, low-budget films do not come much drearier than Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss, written and directed by Tommy O’Haver. The plot follows Billy (Sean P. Hayes) as he stumbles from the end of an unsatisfying affair into an impossible infatuation with Gabriel (Brad Rowe), whom he begs to be his photographic model.

Billy is assailed by the catty remarks of various scene-queens (including an excellent cameo from Paul Bartel, director of Eating Raoul [1982]), and counselled by his brutally honest gal-pal George (Meredith Scott Lynn), who is living through her own problems with men.

Although he keeps insisting, in a dull voice-over narration, that he is the ultimate romantic, there is very little in Billy’s manner, style or actions that backs up his claim – particularly his relentless inquisition of Gabriel’s ‘real’ sexual orientation. For a movie that boasts it is beyond rigid labels of gay and straight, this is a decidedly retrograde obsession.

It is hard to believe that Billy is any kind of artist. The film pays scant attention to the staging or exhibition of his supposedly funky, glamorous, Hollywood-inspired series of Polaroid snaps. Instead, we get an endless series of tepid dream sequences in which a trio of drag queens mooch around, miming to Petula Clark.

Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss announces itself as a “A Tommy O’Haver Trifle” – perhaps in response to that famous credit, “A Spike Lee Joint”. However, for a trifle, the film is definitely lacking in colour, lightness and flavour.

© Adrian Martin June 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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