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Gay romantic comedy doesn't take advantage of its flashback structure

Julie Davis's All Over the Guy is yet another entry in the ever-growing genre of gay romantic comedy. Ten years ago, one would have led off by saying, "It's a romantic comedy, but with a twist: They're both men!" or "It's When Harry Met Solly…!" It's a step in the right direction that such films have become commonplace enough that they have to stand on their own merits as part of the tradition of romantic comedies in general, as well as of the gay subset. But that context inevitably makes you wish that All Over the Guy had something a little more novel to offer.

The romance is recounted largely in flashback. At the beginning, we meet the two principals, who have just broken up: Eli (Dan Bucatinsky, who also adapted the script from his own stage play), a slightly fussy, neurotic Jewish journalist whose dating problems undoubtedly stem from his excessively "progressive" upbringing by his parents, both of whom are psychiatrists; and Tom (Richard Ruccolo), a hunky commitmentphobic teacher, who has his own family issues. (Andrea Martin, as Eli's mom, whom he has grown up addressing as "Dr. Wyckoff," is hysterical as usual.)

Eli, nervously waiting the results from his HIV test, passes the time by telling the story of the relationship to the sympathetic receptionist (Doris Roberts) at the clinic; simultaneously, Tom tells the story to a guy he's just met at his AA meeting.

The odd couple: Eli's neurotic. Tom's stupid. Together, they (Dan Bucatinsky, left, and Richard Ruccolo) somehow make sense.
Matthew Cazier
The odd couple: Eli's neurotic. Tom's stupid. Together, they (Dan Bucatinsky, left, and Richard Ruccolo) somehow make sense.

Details

Rated R

We learn that their first encounter was a blind date arranged by friends with an agenda. That is, Eli's best friend, Brett (Adam Goldberg), has met Tom's best friend, Jackie (Sasha Alexander), and wants to go out with her. Somehow this mutates into a deal in which their date is dependent on Brett fixing up Eli with Tom.

While Brett and Jackie almost immediately fall for each other, things are not so easy for Eli and Tom. Tom is difficult, even hostile; as he's leery of commitment, this is a sure sign that he senses the possibility of a real relationship, at least subconsciously. Eli keeps trying to placate Tom, but some things are too aggravating for him to bear. "What do you mean you've never seen Gone with the Wind?" he asks. "Well, I've seen parts of it," Tom responds, "like when -- what's his name? --Red Buttons kisses Charlotte…" He doesn't seem to be kidding, which means that Tom is not only ignorant of gay subcultural stuff, but is also outside of mainstream culture in a way that suggests, well, stupidity. "You know," he adds, "I just don't like black-and-white movies," getting another grimace from Eli.

Of course, we know that they will meet again after this disastrous start and be attracted and repulsed and attracted and repulsed. Tom will drive Eli crazy with his intellectual shortcomings -- every time he says, "All's I know is…," Eli can't help correcting him -- and Eli will likewise alienate Tom with his desire for a real, long-term relationship.

In the background, we get Brett and Jackie's relatively smooth love affair, which serves as a contrast, in the manner of, say, the Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher characters in When Harry Met Sally… or Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins in About Last Night

The film isn't particularly gay- specific. In fact, Bucatinsky's original one-act play, I Know You Are, But What Am I?, was about a hetero couple (with the Tom character as a woman). But the gender change has implications, given the traditional image of gay men as more promiscuous and less likely to settle down than straight guys.

Strangely, although the narrative structure -- the flashbacks intercut with both Eli and Tom relating the story -- invites the possibility of comic Rashomon-like disparities, Davis and Bucatinsky never take advantage of it. In fact, given that structure, it doesn't really make much sense that the entire story is clearly from Eli's point of view. Nor does Tom's cultural ignorance quite make sense, given that he's a teacher who comes from a wealthy background.

The redeeming features of All Over the Guy are the consistently engaging performances -- including small appearances from Christina Ricci and Lisa Kudrow, both veterans of The Opposite of Sex, whose writer and director, Don Roos, is credited as executive producer here -- and some genuinely funny dialogue. If one had to rate it on the "gay romantic comedy scale," it's better than the recent Hit and Runway, and not as good as Jeffrey, which still puts it in the top third.

 
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