Jeffrey: Christopher Ashley’s Gay Screwball Comedy about AIDS

Christopher Ashley’s Jeffrey tested the grounds for a gay screwball comedy about AIDS, in which the characters’ sexuality is a given–out front, unapologetic and exuberant.

According to screenwriter Paul Rudnick, there was apprehension–“a comedy about AIDS, no thank you”–and offers failed to materialize. The title character (Steven Weber) is an aspiring, cheerfully oversexed actor, who decides to put his sex life on hold because “sex wasn’t meant to be safe or negotiated or fatal.” AIDS has forced him to believe that emotional contact carries with it the heartbreak of losing someone. But as soon as Jeffrey makes his celibate vow, he meets Steve (Michael T. Weiss), a hunk who’s HIV-Positive. What’s a handsome boy to do

There’s plenty of kissing within the film’s first minutes, reflecting the guiding philosophy of Parting Glances. “We wanted to get it out of the way,” said Rudnick, “so that the audience would realize that Jeffrey is not about some kind of shocking revelation.” People have been so programmed to expect gay film to be about soap opera and nobility in hospital room. Jeffrey is not about that.” The subjects of both homosexuality and AIDS are treated with a hip, campy style.

Composed of vignettes, the film uses Manhattan as the backdrop for exploring the “adventures” of droll gay men: Sterling (Patrick Stewart), a wise-cracking interior decorator, and his boyfriend Darius (Bryan Batt), a dancer in the Broadway musical Cats.

Other characters are just as eccentric: a proud Mafia princess (Olympia Dukakis) who’s the mother of a “pre-operative transsexual lesbian, and a bullying, double-talking evangelist (Sigourney Weaver). Famous actors–Weber (Wings), Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Weaver (the Alien movies), Dukakis (Moonstruck)–were cast to minimize commercial risk and enhance the movie’s appeal, but despite decent reviews, the movie didn’t crossover.