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Like It Is.

When the pooh-bahs of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation convene to brainstorm for their next media awards orgy, they should reserve a special bejeweled trophy for England's Channel Four Television. No single production company on either side of the Atlantic has done more to further the visibility, dimensionality, and dignity of gay folk on-screen.

Happily, Channel Four also makes good movies. Like It Is, the company's latest guy-guy romance, is a quintessential Channel Four product (being distributed by First Run Features). As in Beautiful Thing, with which it has already been compared, the boys are pretty, and the setting's often gritty. As in Hollow Reed, the sex scenes push the envelope of British censorship laws. As in Alive & Kicking, people work. It may be glamorous or rarefied work to some of us, but it still takes its toll.

Matt, for instance, is a rising dance-club entrepreneur and music promoter. If you asked him how he earned his paycheck last week, though, he would tell you about how he baby-sat a trio of wet-nosed pop idols and coaxed a stage-frightened disco diva out of a toilet stall. Craig, his new boyfriend, spars in illegal bare-knuckle matches in the northwestern English borough of Blackpool and roughs up the occasional drug dealer for an extra buck.

Unlike American love stories, Like It Is devotes relatively little time to the awkward mating dance that brings its lovers together, focusing its gaze on the labor that threatens to pull them apart. Much of the film dwells amid the high-wire music world of Matt (Ian Rose), a sexed-out, coked-up city boy described by his roommate as a "serial shagger." The street-sawy Craig (the soulful and sad-eyed Steve Bell, a real-life featherweight champ) is no match for the machinations of Matt's club-star roommate Paula (Dani Behr) and his mentor, a rapacious music executive played with smarmy effectiveness by Roger Daltrey. The ex--Who-ha has clearly been taking notes over 30 years of studio hopping.

Like It Is is no Beautiful Thing: Writer Robert Gray lacks Jonathan Harvey's wit and instinct for idiosyncrasy. But it's studded with good performances--Christopher Hargreaves is terrific in a small role as Craig's perplexed brother--and director Paul Oremland has a feel for the bustle of the commercial music business. The London gay-scene atmosphere is particularly convincing, although the Soho pavement never erupts into a disco beat when I hit Old Compton Street. Perhaps I should try toting a boxing champ on my arm instead of a Selfridges shopping bag.

No punches are thrown in Your Friends & Neighbors, but then writer-director Neil LaBute doesn't pull any punches either. Anyone who saw In the Company of Men knows LaBute is an unsparing observer of the heterosexual male superego. His latest is no less scathing for adding a lesbian coupling to the mix of embattled straights. Amy Brenneman, Aaron Eckhart, Ben Stiller, and Catherine Keener are two socializing couples whose fatally flawed marriages unravel when two of them cross-pollinate; bisexual art maven Nastassja Kinski and lady-killer Jason Patric are the foils.

LaBute catches guys with their pants down--psychically and otherwise--but he's not afraid of women, like David Mamet. (He's also, astonishingly enough, a Mormon.) Everyone is dead-on, especially the devastatingly dry Keener. But could someone explain to me the phenomenon of Ben Stiller? A screen lothario for the millennium, he conjures all my worst dreams of making love to Leonard Maltin.

Stuart is a theater critic and senior film writer for Newsday.
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Author:Stuart, Jan
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Sep 15, 1998
Words:577
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