Jan. 23, 2006

Gods and Monsters (1998)
Grade: 66/100

Director: Bill Condon
Stars: Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave

What it's about. Feeble homosexual has-been Hollywood film director James Whale (Ian McKellen) reflects upon his life and lusts after his new straight friend and yard worker (Brendan Fraser). Whale's Hungarian maid is played by Lynn Redgrave. Set in 1957.

How others will see it. This art movie didn't fill the theaters, but it did garner three Oscar nominations. Liberals, classic film buffs, and acting students should be interested in this effort.

Some folks will be annoyed at the characterization of homosexuals. Others will be irritated that homosexuality is such a major part of the story. Yet others will wonder if a female love interest will ever show up. She does, and has about five minutes of screen time. We see much more of loyal but disapproving Redgrave, who hasn't been hot since the 1970s.

So, it is a narrow audience for Gods and Monsters. Those with the nature, intellect, or interest to see it through will be rewarded with a well-directed character study. Everyman Fraser doesn't add up (more on this later), but McKellen and Redgrave build complex screen personalities.

How I felt about it. Whale has had a stroke that affects his mental acuity, which comes and goes. He is an idler with his glory days as a director (Frankenstein, Show Boat) long ago.

But above all else, Whale is gay. This means he is something of a mannered, yearning pansy, the "old gay" stereotype. The "young gay" stereotype is personified by a giggly college student who admires Whale for his Frankenstein movies.

The focus is usually on Bride of Frankenstein, even though the original Frankenstein (1931) is certainly the better movie. Frankenstein was about the burden of a creation of man and not God. Bride of Frankenstein was a parody, not of the original movie, but of the sequel that Universal was expected to make instead. Whale had his laugh at the studio, and was fortunate enough that the film (which was, after all, pretty good) made money for all concerned.

Old gays are sneaky clever, so we gather. Whale befriends Fraser, a well-intentioned young man who would like to believe he has something to offer the world other than his beefcake body and the ability to push a lawnmower. But while Fraser is unerringly polite given his social background and status, he's a dull boy in terms of personality and conversational skill.

In other words, he's no match for the cunning Whale, who finds a way to humiliate Fraser using a gas mask and towel. In his young days, this would be sport for Whale. Now he's deliberately trying to get himself killed.

Fraser, however, remains the gentle giant rather than the angry beast that for some reason Whale expects him to be. The character of Whale, who liked Show Boat better, shouldn't be fascinated with Frankenstein. There are no gods or monsters in this movie. Whale should see Fraser as Adonis instead.