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The Dying Gaul (1/10)

by Tony Medley

Used to be, and maybe still is, that one of the bigger putdowns of a TV show is that it’s just a bunch of talking heads. You know the genre, people sitting at a table talking about something, often politics, but it might be anything from sports to fashion. “The Dying Gaul” takes it one step further, it’s talking monitors. Half of this overly long film is people sitting at computers typing into their keyboards in chat rooms with voice-overs speaking the lines we’re reading. As far as I’m concerned, with this movie, the film genre has finally hit rock bottom. This is a radio show or a book, but it’s certainly not a movie. There is nothing visual in it.

Oh, there are pretty scenery and nice color, and all that. But there is no reason for any of it. It’s puffery.

I thought it was a mystery or a thriller, so I went to see it instead of Steve Martin’s new film, “Shopgirl,” which was screening the same night. I’ve never seen Steve Martin in a movie that rose to the level of mediocrity. So, since this one had Peter Sarsgaard, whom I liked in “Shattered Glass” and “Flight Plan” and Campbell Scott of “Rodger Dodger” and “St. Ralph,” I thought this would be entertaining.


105 minutes, half of which consists of Sarsgaard and Patricia Clarkson typing into their keyboards (OK, maybe it isn’t half; there’s so much of it, it just seemed like half). The other half is even less compelling, if that’s possible. This is the classic example of a movie without a premise, which is the recipe for failure.

This is only opening in 15 markets and only 4 theaters in Los Angeles. If it does $100,000 of business it’ll be a miracle. The MPAA has given it an R rating. If ever a movie should be NC-17, this is it.

If you’re still considering seeing this after reading what I just wrote, you’ll see Robert (Sarsgaard), a gay screenwriter, hired by Jeffrey (Campbell Scott), a producer married to Elaine (Clarkson), who is apparently unaware that Jeffrey is bisexual. Jeffrey hits on Robert using scummy language that will offend many, and Elaine finds out about it, leading to disaster. I got the idea Jeffrey picked up Robert’s screenplay for the sole purpose of hitting on him. Hollywood being Hollywood, this is not beyond the realm of possibility. To make it all come together, Jeffrey invites Robert to move in with him and Elaine.

This is based on writer-director Craig Lucas’s play. Sitting through the film, it is obvious that this was written as a play and not a movie, and never should have been a movie. There are only two locations, Elaine and Jeffrey’s house on the beach and a studio that looks like Paramount. But why do you need locations when all the action is typing into a computer? Maybe that works on the stage; it clearly doesn’t on the screen.

This doesn’t paint a very appealing picture of gay men. Robert is suicidal and homicidal. Jeffrey is dishonest and unfaithful to his wife. We see Jeffrey bring Robert to orgasm, seeming to cause Robert such pain it looks worse than childbirth. I had considered Sarsgaard a good actor, but his orgasmic acting is ludicrous. However, part of the blame for that must be borne by director Lucas, who should have reshot the scene with this advice, “Peter, you’re having an orgasm; not a ruptured appendix!”

This scene is especially tasteless, as is another in which Sarsgaard masturbates in  front of his computer. Can you imagine Clark Gable or Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant or Spencer Tracy unzipping and pulling down their pants, feigning orgasm, self-induced or induced by another man? Sarsgaard and Scott clearly lack a moral compass that would keep them from disgracing themselves by engaging in such egregious scenes. Acting or not, there are some things that are in such poor taste, one simply does not agree to do them for a movie.

Had I known what was in store for me here, naked men cavorting with each other and long scenes watching people typing into computer chat rooms, I would rather have endured “The Jerk” (1979) or any of Martin’s other lousy movies. Forewarned is forearmed.

October 17, 2005