Writer Paul Rudnick walks a fine line with “Jeffrey” as he balances comedy and drama with his stage play and film. “Jeffrey” has every opportunity to be melodramatic or cheaply exploitative, but it instead manages to find a way to laugh through tears and fears. In 1995 America was still basically in the midst of the AIDS epidemic with the government doing just about nothing about it, so “Jeffrey” examines the relative fear and terror behind it.
Based on the acclaimed play, Steven Weber plays Jeffrey, a gay man with an addiction to sex who grows terrified of the AIDS epidemic and contracting the fatal disease. Instead of dealing with sexual partners and their increasing demands, Jeffrey decides to remain abstinent, and work on himself. But his plan fails when he meets Steve (Michael T. Weiss), a handsome stranger who takes an immediate liking to Jeffrey, and begins challenging Jeffrey’s resolve. Conflicted, Jeffrey tries to figure out how to deal with his love for Steve, while coming to terms with his growing paranoia of AIDS.
Protagonist Jeffrey is basically a symbol of the Gay community that fears for their lives and is willing to sacrifice their own personal happiness and sense of pleasure to remain “Safe.” Steve comes along and offers a different scenario where he accepts the hand he’s been dealt and wants to spend his life living rather than being terrified. “Jeffrey” allows the audience to look at many points of views, while also taking a good long laugh at various scenarios that take the pressure off of hard situations and tough conflicts. Steven Weber is very good in his performance as Jeffrey, a man who has embraced his homosexuality but finds it impossible to enjoy sex.
As now there’s a whole series of guidelines and rules that come with it. “Jeffrey” is basically him coming to terms with his fear and trying to figure out if he can ever come to grips with the fear and remain unhappy for the rest of his life. Meanwhile he attends a hilarious sex addicts’ anonymous class, meets a motivational speaker who has little pity for his problem, and swears that he even sees Mother Teresa. As I mentioned “Jeffrey” laughs through the tears, but writer Rudnick also confronts a lot of hard realities about being gay in 1995. There’s the almost imminent thread of disease, the ignorance behind AIDS and HIV, and of course the presence of Gay bashers.
Many of whom are almost always lurking in the shadows ready to destroy any instance of happiness. Director Christopher Ashley gathers a great cast with Weber, and Michael T Weiss providing stirring performances, along with Patrick Stewart and Bryan Batt. “Jeffrey” does tend to feel more like a sketch anthology sometimes and can meander from its narrative on occasion, but ultimately it’s a very good romance drama that confronts still very relevant social themes, and just might make you laugh and cry in a matter of a minute.
The new release from “Shout! Select” comes at the beginning of “Pride Month” and should be a great purchase for fans of the film and or play. There’s an audio commentary with actor Steven Weber and author/film critic Alonso Duralde. “Steven” is a twenty six minute conversation with star Weber who sits down and discusses his time on the film. Weber digs in to character psychology, motivation, heaps praise on the original play, and how the role offered a break from his job on his hit TV show “Wings.”
Weber also recalls his favorite moments while filming, and his on screen kiss with Nathan Lane. “Mark” is an eleven minute interview with producer Mark Balsam who talks about how “Jeffrey” came in to his life, how he developed the play with Rudnick, and helped bring it to the stage. He also discusses filming the hectic shoot, looking for a way to include so many of the fun cameos, his memories, and his fondness for consummate professional Patrick Stewart. There’s a still gallery offering an enormous share of production stills and publicity snaps, and finally a theatrical trailer for “Jeffrey.”