Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss Review
Cast: Sean Hayes, Brad Rowe, Richard Ganoung, Meredith Scott Lynn, Paul Bartel
The successful sitcom Will & Grace was once jokingly referred to as Jack & Karen because of the popularity of the two “other” main characters in the series. In Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss the actor who played Jack, Sean Hayes, does take centre stage as gay photographer Billy Collier in this breezy romantic comedy. Having ended an open relationship with a man who is never going to commit to him, he meets handsome waiter Gabriel (Rowe) and forms an instant bond. But the obvious sexual attraction may never be realised as Gabriel is straight…or at least he claims to be. Billy’s confusion as he battles with his feelings, gets advice from friends and is sent mixed signals from the man of his dreams offers a similar brand of light Friday night entertainment as Will & Grace.
In a pre-credits sequence, Billy’s life is revealed through photographs and his voiceover warning of a tongue in an ear and a screen kiss at some point during the film for those who might be offended. There’s nothing even remotely offensive here, though, as this tale of a frustrated lover struggling to discover if his affections are misplaced rarely ventures from its modest musings on relationships. Billy’s break up with a boyfriend more interested in another man calls for a typical reflection on his past partners and his own understanding of love, then the appearance of the is-he-or-isn’t-he Gabriel stretches a storyline more suited to an episode of Will & Grace over the course of 89 minutes. Thankfully, all the actors have realised they are providing a whimsical yarn about what draws us to others so play up to stereotypes to best effect. Hayes plays Billy as a hopelessly unlucky-in-love romantic while Rowe’s Gabriel is the hunk who doesn’t really understand himself. At times it is shamelessly disposable, but that is also its most endearing quality.
Labelled “A Tommy O’Haver Trifle”, the writer/director was well aware he was not making anything too serious so provides nods to give an indication of where his influences lie. He litters the film with tributes to1950s Hollywood such as Doris Day comedies, musicals and sweeping melodramas, such as the Burt Lancaster-Deborah Kerr classic From Here to Eternity. Many of these come in the form of Billy’s daydreams about Gabriel and performances from drag queens, both of which are amusing diversions that provide much needed light relief from the limp plot. The soundtrack also helps lift the mood with good-time vibes from Nina Simone, Petula Clark and mambo king Xavier Cugat. Like a trifle, this mix of ingredients makes Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss a much sweeter experience than had it been overcome by the rather sour taste of Billy’s self-pity.
Released in cinemas way back in 1999 but only just getting a DVD release, Hayes benefits from his exposure as Jack in Will & Grace because here he lacks the comic vitality seen on the small screen. Those looking to fill the void left by the departure of Jack from their screens shouldn’t be disappointed, just don’t expect much more substance even though he is the leading man this time.
The original theatrical trailer.
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