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
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
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
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
October 17, 2005