Kendall and I finally shoehorned our way into a screening of “Brokeback Mountain” the other night. We had tried a few times earlier in the week and every single showing in Los Angeles was sold out, even the ones starting at 11:30 on a Tuesday night. The irony is that the only other time I’ve seen that “Sold Out” sign blinking across every showing of a film was for “The Passion of the Christ” which is about as far from “Brokeback Mountain” as you can get. In fact, it is those very people who were screaming that it was a mortal sin not to see Mel Gibson’s Jesus flick who are now decrying the alleged gay takeover of Hollywood (first the Jews, then the gays—that’s the usual blame sequence of the right wing fundamentalists).
A lot has been written about the “bravery” of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal for taking on the roles of the repressed cowboys. A bunch of actors turned down the parts because they were terrified of playing gay (especially if they really were). I read that some gay groups are taking offense at the homophobic concept that it is so courageous to portray a homosexual on film, and I can see their point (does anyone ever call openly gay actors Rupert Everett or Ian McKellen brave for playing straight men?), but on the other hand, I think any actor willing to have an intimate moment on the screen is amazingly brave. I sure as hell don’t think playing these characters will hurt Ledger or Gyllenhaal’s careers in any way and I hope all those actors who loved the script but turned down the roles are now regretting their cowardice. Whenever a straight actor plays a gay person in a film you can always count on endless reports about their womanizing exploits to immediately follow the film’s release. This is followed by a series of well placed articles where they talk about how disgusting it was to kiss a guy and then they laugh about the awkward moments and describe how they had to wash their mouths out afterwards. To Ledger and Gyllenhaal’s credit, they’re not playing that game at all. How refreshing that they don’t feel the need to do a Maxim photo shoot at Hooter’s to prove their heterosexuality. I read an interview with Heath Ledger in which he further distanced himself from the bravery label:
I hate to call it “daring” or “brave.” Firemen are daring and brave. I'm acting. I didn't get hurt and I’m not mentally wounded from this experience.
Ledger refused to take the bait in the interview to shudder over his on-screen escapades with Gyllenhaal and instead talked about how wonderful his co-star was and how important the sex scenes were to the story:
The first moment for Ennis was very poignant because it had to be rough; it had to be fighting. He was almost ready to punch him. Once that all settled, it had to be this innate passionate adrenaline. It just takes over him. There's another moment in the tent where it was really important to show a glimpse of Ennis in a vulnerable state. It is true intimate love they have for each other. It has to set up the tragedy for the story.
Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams (who plays his tortured wife in the film and was excellent) just had a baby girl a few weeks ago. In the past the press agents would have paraded this baby around as more proof that Ledger was “all man” (as President Reagan once famously said about the suspicions that his son Ron was gay: “He’s all man, we made sure of that.”) but again, to their credit, there haven’t been any attempts to exploit Baby Ledger.
Jake Gyllenhaal has also refused the “Eww, gross” stance and has commented that he understood the universal aspects of the relationship. He said his friends were freaking out that he was going to kiss a guy in a movie but that he thought the film was all about “how impossible love can be sometimes, and I can relate to that.” He went so far as to say that he thought most men had felt attraction for another man at some point in their lives.
So with such articulate stars and respected director Ang Lee promoting the story of the deep love between these two characters, what is up with the studio’s new ad campaign for the film?
The poster on the left is the original one that evokes the brooding, sad nature of the story. The one on the right is the ad that just started appearing in the trades. Are they hoping that the stodgy Academy voters will be confused into thinking this is the heartwarming tale of a devoted family man played by Jake Gyllenhaal traveling the rodeo circuit with his lovely wife, Anne Hathaway? How ridiculous to use this image to sell the film. I thought Hathaway’s aging (the film takes place over 20 years) was the scariest of the lot, with her beautiful brown tresses slowly being replaced by ever-expanding blond Farrah Fawcett wigs that looked awful. Is that what happens to pretty rodeo gals in Texas?
Many of the critics are going nuts praising this film. “It is simply one of the greatest love stories in film history,” said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It is? Oy, I wanted to like this movie more than I did. I agree that the performances were superb and I appreciated the spare use of dialogue but I really wanted to understand more of what made some of the characters tick. But though I left disappointed, it’s true that the film has stayed with me for several days and I now see that it has more layers than I first thought. Part of me thinks I should see it again but only if they show an alternative ending that finds Jack and Ennis living happily on an ostrich farm somewhere in northern California. This morning Nathan Lane was interviewed on “The Today Show” and he commented on Heath Ledger’s line in the film, “This thing gets hold of us the wrong time, the wrong place, we’re dead,” to which Lane responded, “What do you mean, like the A&P? You're in the middle of NOWHERE! Get a ranch with the guy! Stop torturing these two poor women and get a room! What's the problem?”
For all the lip service we hear about how mainstream sensibilities have changed, the reality is that if the gay characters in this story weren’t so relentlessly miserable, the film never would have gotten made at all.