"Sex was never meant to be safe or negotiated or…fatal."
What happened to AIDS? Eight years ago, when Jeffrey was released, it seemed to be all anyone could talk about. It was everywhere—magazine covers, talk shows, television, classrooms—inescapable and undeniable.
But now? Where did it go? AIDS and HIV have become passé, and discussions about them are seen as trite and preachy. So movies are no longer made about the subject, and even shows that focus on gay culture, such as Queer as Folk, deal with it as a secondary story line, so as not to depress us and remind us of our mortality. Because that's it, isn't it? We've tired of hearing about AIDS because it brings us down. It's still around, but we'd rather ignore it in the name of optimism.
Who says we can't have both? Is it impossible to imagine a film that deals heavily with the topic of AIDS/HIV while still making us laugh ourselves silly? A film that reminds us that a shortened life should mean more celebration, not more mourning? A film about living with AIDS, not dying from it? A film like Jeffrey?
Facts of the Case
Exasperated by the effort and clinical nature of safe sex, but terrified of the danger of unsafe sex, Jeffrey (Steven Weber, Wings, Single White Female) has decided to give it up altogether. That's right, he, a gay man and a self-proclaimed sexual compulsive, has taken a vow of celibacy. Knowing it will be a challenge, Jeffrey realizes he needs to replace sex with something, and he decides on the gym. He'll focus all his extra energy on working out—a great plan, but for one not-so-minor detail: the gym is filled with hot, hard-bodied men. And the particular hot, hard-bodied man who offers to spot him, Steve (Michael T. Weiss, The Pretender), also happens to have a crush on him.
Time for Plan B: Jeffrey will focus on his career. But again he hits a bump, for he's an unemployed actor who works as a "cater waiter." In other words, focusing on his career doesn't take all that much energy—certainly not enough to keep his mind off sex, especially when Steve shows up to tend bar at the next party he works.
Perhaps Jeffrey doesn't need to give up sex completely, perhaps he can just give up promiscuity by taking his friend Sterling's (Patrick Stewart, Star Trek: The Next Generation, X-Men) advice and finding a boyfriend. Sterling, not one to mind his own business, tries to set up Jeffrey and Steve, but Jeffrey is afraid of the consequences of getting close to someone who could easily convince him to give up his celibacy. So he runs. Steve and Sterling and his boyfriend, Darius, follow and, joined by strangers on the street, attempt to change Jeffrey's mind. It works, and he agrees to accompany Steve for dinner the next night. But before our contentedness can set in, Steve announces he has an admission to make: he is HIV positive. Jeffrey takes the news nonchalantly, but the next night finds him canceling the date on Steve's answering machine.
For the remainder of the movie, we watch Jeffrey try to come to terms with the fact that he's in love with a man who could not only die, but also kill him in the process. He tries a self-help guru (Sigourney Weaver, Alien, Working Girl, Dave), his parents, and even a priest (Nathan Lane, The Birdcage, Mouse Hunt, Isn't She Great). But in the end, it is Sterling and Darius (who is also HIV positive) and their struggle to stay absolutely optimistic in the face of impending mortality that reminds Jeffrey what's really important.
Jeffrey is a three-ring circus, disjointed and somewhat confusing. From the pure fantasy (e.g., Mother Teresa playing the piano) to the I-think-it's-fantasy-but-I'm-not-really-sure (e.g., Nathan Lane as a showtune-belting gay priest), we are asked to suspend our expectations of reality and ride the rollercoaster that is this film. And it's worth it. If you play along, you'll find yourself not only entertained but also enlightened. You'll have learned that death doesn't have to mean the absence of life, and that love is worth every risk it necessitates.
But I don't intend to imply that this film is all about the message, that the enlightenment overpowers the entertainment. With Patrick Stewart as a flaming gay man, how could it possibly be a mere sermon? That's right, Patrick Stewart. Gay. And beautifully so, I might add. He plays the part perfectly; the walk, the talk, the gestures…combine them all with that fabulous British accent, and we have the star of our show. Sure it's called Jeffrey, but it might just as well have been called Sterling; it wouldn't be much of a movie without him. Jeffrey is a bit dull, and so is Steve; Darius is a bit over the top, but Stewart's Sterling brings them all together and forces them to tell us their story. Yes, one minute he's flaming, swishing away like there's no tomorrow, but the next he's very real, numb to his lover's death, afraid to say the words aloud. With Stewart in the role, I believe both sides of Sterling. In everyone else's performances, I can see the film's roots in the theater (it started out as a play). Patrick Stewart turns it into a movie.
Jeffrey's transfers are adequate and unremarkable. The 1.85:1 anamorphic video does a good job of showcasing the film's bright and garish colors, but it does so with more specks of grain than is tolerable for a 1995 movie released on DVD in 2003. The Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track, again, gets the job done but isn't worthy of any particular acclaim.
There is a theatrical trailer for the film, and nothing else. In other words, this is a bare-bones disc. One trailer does not a bonus feature make.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A cast member from "Cats," sex obsession, and AIDS? How many more gay stereotypes could be portrayed in this movie? I'll tell you: a gay waiter, a gay gym, a gay interior designer…
Have you seen Jeffrey? You should. There's a chance I'm just saying that because I believe everyone should see every movie about gay culture ever made, in the interest of building bridges. But, it's one of the better ones out there, so you'll be entertained and enlightened while you're being educated. And you can see Patrick Stewart giggling like a school girl while wearing a bright pink t-shirt. Unless you've seen it and know you'll find yourself wanting to watch it over and over again, though, don't bother buying this bare-bones disc.
For its lighthearted yet poignant reminder that AIDS is still a demon many have to fight, Jeffrey is cleared of all charges. MGM, on the other hand, is found guilty of releasing a bare-bones DVD in 2003 and is sentenced to community service at the local hospice.
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• Theatrical Trailer
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