Bill Sherwood made one film in his short life. Fortunately for us, it was this one, "Parting Glances". This brilliant, overachieving little film, is about three people and two relationships. Michael is at the center of both. Michael and Robert are going to "part" in 24 hours after being together for more than five years. There is a mystery surrounding why. They are still very much in love, share a healthy and beautiful amount of intimacy during the 48 hours this film spans, have a great home together, and receive loving support from numerous and various friends and co-workers. So, why is Robert moving to Africa for two years to work for the World Health Organization? The answer, it turns out, is complex. Enter Nick, the doe eyed, voluptuous lipped, silky haired, ex-boyfriend of Michael, played brilliantly by Steve Buscemi.
Without spoiling the skillful, and overwhelmingly human, unfolding of this riddle, let me just say that Nick and Michael shared a youthful past that is heartbreaking because sometime in the near future only one of them will still be around. They were once a couple. But it was at a time in their lives when at least one of them wasn't ready to settle down. They enjoyed mischief, carelessness, and each other at a time when everything was new and the world had no boundaries. Their lives during that time is shown in pieces as flashbacks. The flashbacks are the thoughts, memories, and overpowering feelings, that they carry with them still. They appear in dreams while napping. Or, when Michael looks at a photo series of boardwalks on Fire Island; a place where they literally "spent" their youth. There are many very subtle, but very moving and revealing, moments in this film. None more than when Nick (Steve Buscemi) sits on Michael's lap, looks him straight in the eye, and as he draws his fingers over his lips, mouths the words, "I love you". And your heart drops into your stomach...
But Nick and Michael haven't been together for more than five years because Michael and Robert are a firmly established couple and seemingly happy. So, why the split? That's the crux of this film. This film is about the complexities of love and relationships. Love tests the limits of everyone who goes near it. Some can handle it. Some struggle. Robert is struggling and he wants a "break because things have become predictable". Ever heard that one before? Of course it's BS, but how the truth is parsed out over 90 minutes is what makes "Parting Glances" a wonderful film that aims at the heart and hits a bullseye.
This film was made before the internet existed, before computers, cell phones, texting, Grinder, apps, laptops, modems, halogen light bulbs, and even CD's. When this film was made people still spoke on land line phones with rotary dials, played vinyl records on a turntable to hear music, used pay phones, and the yellow pages. And to see Africa on a map you had to open a World Atlas book that was the size of a breakfast table. And yet, it is a very modern film. And it endures today because of its humanity which will outlive anything we invent next. At our core, we still want our hearts to be touched and this film does that. In a scene that takes place in a stairwell there is a conversation between Nick, who has seen it all, and a young gay man who is seeing it all for the first time. The polarity in that scene, and between these two lives, a young man who is staring down the end of his young life, and a younger who man who is staring wild eyed into the future is unforgettable. And it is just one of many unforgettable moments in this powerful little film.
It is impossible to overstate two things. One is the incredible talent of Bill Sherwood who wrote, directed, edited, and scored this film. God bless him, he had something he wanted to say before he left this world in his thirties, and he said it. "Parting Glances" is one of the best films ever made that deals with the complexities, and ordinariness, of people who are, incidentally, gay. The other is Steve Buscemi who's previous film roles, immediately prior to "Parting Glances", was "Dead Pimp" in "No Picnic" (1986). I haven't seen "No Picnic" but it kinda sounds like he didn't even have a line in it. In this film, however, he owns the role of Nick with a "half past give a crap" attitude that masks his fear over the loss he knows he's about to experience. He is sweet, touching, charming, desirable, and a smart ass. It is a Steve Buscemi that we never saw again. But his talent can't be missed and this role is unlike anything he did after.
Watch this film. I saw it for the first time in the mid 80's and have come back to it again and again over the years. It has aged very well. Its basic humanity, and story about love, will never die. And maybe that was why Bill Sherwood gave us this treasure. So that we would never forget what this is all supposed to be about. Spoiler alert: stop reading if you haven't seen it yet. It all ends well.
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