"PARTING GLANCES" is a look at the way it was for gays, the way it is, and the way it will be. It's as deft and terse as a short story, but filmmaker Bill Sherwood polishes the emotions right out of this smart, clinical, bright, little movie, a low-budget effort as dry as a sore throat.

A couple of clean-jawed young men, like the ones who shave on TV ads, romp through their spotlessly clean Manhattan apartment -- a tasteful, kind of boyish romantic moment occurs, and the camera picks up afterward, with the two men snuggling in a hot shower. A cold shower perhaps would have done better. But boys will be boys. And that is the point after all: Gay couples are different than straights, but not as much these days. They grapple with being and staying in coupledom in the days of the plague.

Writer-director Sherwood, fed up with the usual gay themes and distressed by AIDS, set out to represent gays in a new way. And the scene he creates reflects a rarefied society, though sometimes it's tiresomely urbane and, strangely enough, all too stereotypical.

Still, Sherwood offers an intelligent alternative, sure to be a welcome relief to gay men who are sick of TV movies about getting AIDS or telling the family the awful news. Here there is nothing particularly odd about gayness. The youngest character, a record store clerk, told his folks when he was 16. He wants a normal life, he says, "a co-op on Central Park, a BMW, a house in Bucks County."

The hero Michael (Richard Ganoung) has suffered through the political upheaval of the '70s, and has been sobered by an old lover's illness. But he's your basic yuppie, settled into complacent coupledom. His lover Robert (John Bolger), bored with the staid relationship, is relocating overseas.

The title refers equally to Robert's leave- taking and the high old times that homosexuals had in the heyday of their liberation, a sexual abandon that is coming to so grisly a slow-down.

Representing the demise of the short-lived spree is the spectral Nick, Michael's old lover. Steve Buscemi plays Nick, a tough, bruised man who's not really surprised when his friends shun him, because he really never expected much from them anyway. There's not much pathos here, but at least the subject isn't sentimentalized or trivialized.

The performances are accurate, if distant. Some of the situations are a little arch, with gay men chattering ceaselessly at an interminable cocktail party at which a straight guy is the only cruiser. The party, a bon voyage for Robert, is hosted by a fat girlfriend, who wonders, "Why are all the handsome men gay?" Michael notes, "There are some cute straight men."

"Parting Glances," like stories from David Leavitt's "Family Dancing," is taut, fresh, firm, and masculine. But there's also a lot of posturing and self-analysis. The significant thing is that it breaks the bars of "Le Cage aux Folles."