Longtime Companion (1990): Narrative Structure (Chapters, Events, Characters)–Full Cast and Credits

Norman Rene’s Longtime Companion carried the burden of being one of the the first theatrical movies to deal directly with AIDS.  As such, it faced the tasks of placing the horrible AIDS crisis on the national agenda and in the broader socio-political contexts.

Grade: A- (**** out of *****)

Timing is everything: This meant that the film became gentler in tone and uplifting in message than it needed to be–and would have been–under different circumstances.

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press)

Longtime Companion was not, however, the first fictional work on AIDS.  It followed Larry Kramer’s angry autobiographical play, The Normal Heart (later made into a good TV movie) and William Hoffman’s As Is, both produced in 1985.

The indie film Parting Glances of 1986, which not many people saw, also preceded it.

Spanning almost a decade, the tale of Logngtime Companion is divided into chapters, arranged in chronological order:

July 3, 1981

Willy (Campbell Scott), a personal trainer, and friend John (Dermot Mulroney) spending time with affluent gay couple David (Bruce Davison) and Sean (Mark Lamos) at their beach house on Fire Island for the 4th of July.

Sean is a screenwriter for the popular daytime soap opera “Other People,” and David comes hails from blue blood background and has a large trust fund.

Back in the city, Howard (Patrick Cassidy) prepares to audition for Sean’s soap. We meet his boyfriend Paul (John Dossett), a business exec, and their next-door neighbor is Lisa (Mary-Louise Parker), an antiques dealer, whose childhood friend Fuzzy (Stephen Caffrey) is a lawyer representing Howard.

That morning, The New York Times publishes its first article about the rise of a new cancer in the homosexual community–“a gay cancer?” The news spreads quickly all over, as friends call each other.  Some are immediately concerned, others dismissive.

Willy meets Fuzzy at a tea dance later in the afternoon and they begin an affair that would blossom into a relationship.

Howard lands the role.

April 30, 1982

John is the first to be diagnosed with the new disease, contracting pneumonia.

Howard is given script pages in which his character is slated to become the first openly gay character on daytime TV.  He is concerned about typecasting, fearing that by playing gay he will not be get offered other parts.

Willy and Fuzzy move in together.

John, the first victim of the group, dies shortly after his admission to the hospital.

June 17, 1983

Willy, Fuzzy, Lisa, David, and Sean gather back on Fire Island with friends Michael and Bob to watch Howard’s character come out on the soap opera. They also discuss a sick neighbor who has become a pariah.

That evening, Sean and David argue over Sean’s fears he might be getting sick.

September 7, 1984

Paul is hospitalized with toxoplasmosis. Sean is also hospitalized. Willy visits Sean and is so terrified of becoming infected that he dons surgical mask and protective gown. When Sean kisses him on the neck, he excuses himself to the bathroom to scrub the spot.

Michael (Michael Schoeffling), who’s also visiting Sean, brings homeopathic preparations and a book by Louise Hay. When Howard visits Paul, he breaks down sobbing, and Paul tries to comfort him.

March 22, 1985

Sean has deteriorated to a point of dementia. David helps him writing, deceiving the studio into thinking that Sean is still able to work. Fuzzy tries to get Howard a movie role but the producer refuses to cast him because of AIDS rumors. The same rumor got him fired from “Other People.”

Paul is back in the hospital following a seizure. David takes Sean for a walk, and the latter urinates in a fountain. That night, Willy catches Fuzzy checking himself for swollen glands and they discuss their fear of dying. “What do you think happens when we die?” Fuzzy asks. “We get to have sex again” Willy replies.

January 4, 1986

Sean deteriorates to near-catatonia and is in pain. Strapped into his bed, he has lost control of his bowels and bladder and is forced to wear adult diapers.

After sending Sean’s nurse away, David tells Sean that it is all right to let go, and Sean dies.

Willy and Lisa help David, picking out a suit for Sean to wear to be cremated. Fuzzy calls Gay Men’s Health Crisis to find a funeral home.

In rare moment of levity, Lisa and Willy find a slinky red dress in Sean’s closet and consider giving it to the undertaker. Ultimately they decide against it, since “it needs a hat, a big Bea Lillie thing!”

The four go to Chinese restaurant to write Sean’s obituary, including David as his “longtime companion.”

May 16, 1987

Day of memorial service for David, who has died in his sleep. Bob (Brian Cousins) and Willy eulogize him. At the reception, the friends recall a time when David tried on his sister’s wedding dress, accidentally tripped, and fell down the stairs.

September 10, 1988

Fuzzy and Lisa volunteer answering phones at GMHC. Willy is a “buddy” to a GMHC client, Alberto (Michael Carmine).

Howard has been diagnosed with AIDS. Although not mentioned, Paul has died. Howard uses his fame to raise money for AIDS causes by hosting a benefit which includes a performance by Finger Lakes Trio of the Village People song “YMCA.”

July 19, 1989

Willy, Fuzzy and Lisa walk along the beach, talking about the upcoming ACT UP demonstration. They remember the times before AIDS, wondering about finding a cure.

The film ends with a momentary fantasy sequence, with friends and others lost to AIDS appearing on the beach. The vanish again, and the trio walk off the deserted beach, with the Zane Campbell’s song, “Post-Mortem Bar,” playing on the soundtrack.










































In his astute review, the great Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris discussed the problem of creating individualized characters in the context of a collective statement.  The movie was undeniably ambitious and conscientious about the AIDS catastrophe, but is it fair, Sarris asked, to apply rigorous aesthetic standards to movies about AIDS For Sarris, the film viewed gay subculture from the inside, but he felt that the dialogue was so knowing, the laughter so confidentially unexplained that non-gay audiences would feel excluded from the conversation.

The filmmakers’ intent was to show people making the best of an inconceivable situation. While the goal is to console and inspire, this is not to suggest that the movie is flawless. Produced by American Playhouse, it has the restraining good taste that has marked this outfit’s other productions. Nostalgia and self-protection imply that everything in gay life was lovely before the curse–the promiscuity of the Fire Island scene is flaunted as a pre-AIDS Paradise Lost.

Under the circumstances, Longtime Companion was understandably a bit too tame, a bit too upbeat in showing how one particular gay community–affluent and hedonistic no doubt–was forced to become therapy-oriented and politically active.  The movie’s evident message was that AIDS could also improve one’s character.  In this picture, no one deserts his sick lover, no one gives way to despair.

Made in 1990, many gay men needed to hear those messages.

Oscar Nominations:

Best Supporting Actor: Bruce Davison

Campbell Scott as Willy
Patrick Cassidy as Howard
John Dossett as Paul
Mary-Louise Parker as Lisa
Stephen Caffrey as Fuzzy
Welker White as Rochelle
Bruce Davison as David
Mark Lamos as Sean
Dermot Mulroney as John
Michael Schoeffling as Michael
Brian Cousins as Bob
Annie Golden as Heroin Addict
Brent Barrett as Soap Actor
Dan Butler as Walter
Robi Martin as Transvestite
Robert Joy as Ron
Tony Shalhoub as Paul’s Doctor
David Drake as GMHC Volunteer
Michael Carmine as Alberto
Melora Creager as Finger Lakes Trio
Jesse Hultberg as Finger Lakes Trio
Lee Kimble as Finger Lakes Trio
Brad O’Hare as restaurant waiter


Directed by Norman René
Produced by Stan Wlodkowski; Lydia Dean Pilcher (co-producer)
Written by Craig Lucas
Music by Greg De Belles; Zane Campbell
Cinematography Tony C. Jannelli
Edited by Katherine Wenning
Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Company
Release date October 11, 1989
Running time 100 minutes
Budget $3 million
Box office $4.6 million