This movie spans the years of 1981 – 1989, and focuses on a group of gay men in Los Angeles, during the emergence of devastating effects of AIDS. The film begins with the friends learning about a new disease which seems to affect gay men, and they speculate on whether it could be caused by drugs (poppers) or other factors. As the years go by – each one depicted in a vignette, updating the viewer on what is now going on with the character’s lives – several of the group grow sick and die, while the others have to learn to cope with the loss and the implications for themselves.
I admit that I really wanted to see this because the always excellent Campbell Scott is in it. I had thought that he was a supporting character, but in actual fact, he is one of the biggest parts, and he is wonderful in it. He plays the part of Willy, a man who has to watch as he loses good friends to this awful cruel disease, but he also has to confront his own prejudices (a scene where he visits one friend in hospital, and goes to the bathroom to frantically wash every part of himself that the friend has touched during a hug is particularly uncomfortable, especially now that people know that AIDS of course cannot be transmitted by touch – but this scene is set at a time when people were still unsure of how you could ‘catch’ the illness, and paranoia had set in).
Bruce Davison was also excellent – heartbreakingly so – as a man who has to watch his lover’s worst fears come true. Davison was nominated for an Oscar for his role, and deservedly so.
Other members of the uniformly wonderful cast include Patrick Cassidy, John Dossett, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephen Caffrey, Mark Lamos and Dermot Mulroney.
Speaking for myself, I was only young – maybe 12 or 13 – when we first learned about this scary new disease called AIDS. This meant that growing up, my generation was always aware of this spectre, and it was therefore always something to think about. I guess that makes us luckier than those who were some years older, and only learned about AIDS when they may have already been exposed to it. I think this film perfectly captured the terror and confusion that surrounded AIDS, as well as the prejudices that came with it.
It is a beautifully made, wonderfully acted, incredibly moving film about a disease that changed everything. I highly, highly recommend it.
Year of release: 1989
Director: Norman René
Producers: Lydia Dean Pilcher, Lindsay Law, Stan Wlodkowski
Writer: Craig Lucas
Main cast: Campbell Scott, Patrick Cassidy, John Dossett, Bruce Davison, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephen Caffrey, Dermot Mulroney, Mark Lamos