"Parting Glances" takes you into New York gay culture, and you've never seen this world so free of hysterics and breast-beating propaganda. Despite an awkwardness that, by the end, becomes almost cozily familiar, "Parting Glances" displays what few films have anymore: the seal of authenticity.
The story revolves around two lovers reaching a crisis in their relationship. Robert (John Bolger) is a polished young bureaucrat who seems to have sprung full-grown from the head of Giorgio Armani; Michael (Richard Ganoung), fussy and affected, is a young editor and struggling writer. Each day, Michael visits Nick, a former lover and minor rock star, to prepare special macrobiotic meals. Nick, you see, has AIDS.
Yet AIDS is not the center of the story -- you sense it's almost thrown in just because its absence would be more conspicuous still. Through writer/director Bill Sherwood's lens, it's simply another thing that complicates Robert and Michael's life. Mostly, they live like any straight couple. They get bored with each other. They bicker. They flirt with others. They goof around and make love.
For "Parting Glances," gays are no different from straights (as the caustic Nick says, they're both jerks), and while that's probably true, Sherwood's rather a bear about it. It's one thing to say gays are ordinary people, another to make that point in an ordinary way. There's little tension in "Parting Glances," but much corn (it tells you that love conquers all). The simple dramatic task of getting people in and out of rooms inspires a regular clumsiness in Sherwood, and much of the acting is stilted and self-conscious.
But if the actors have problems, it's partly because of the design of the photography (by Jacek Laskus); the camera stands still, placing heavy demands on them (you can't cut away). And the camera's movement is so easily fluid, it would make any mortal look stiff. "Parting Glances" makes a pretty picture, and if the actors are uneven, the faces are vivid (particularly Steven Buscemi's fish-eyed pallor). The music, too, is masterful, a patchwork of rock 'n' roll and classical pieces that evoke a world of upwardly mobile ease.
"Parting Glances" is hard to approach -- much of it is insular to New York, much of it insular to gay life (when the camera ogles a man's rear in tight jeans as he climbs the stairs, you may have to remind yourself that, in the context of the movie, that's sexy). The satire is cloddish and scattershot, and the dialogue thinks it's much cleverer than it is. It may be that the movie's value is more anthropological than dramatic. But taking you into other worlds is what movies, at least once upon a time, were about. Parting Glances, at the Key, is unrated and contains profanity and sexual themes.