FRIENDS AND FAMILYNR
Were it not for the clothes, cars and sundry other accoutrements, one could almost swear Friends and Family was made 30 years ago, so quaintly retro are so many of its notions. And, believe me, "retro" is a more than kind description.
New York City lovers Stephen (Greg Lauren) and Danny (Christopher Gartin) are surprised by a visit from Stephen's parents (Beth Fowler and Frank Pellegrino). They basically freak out--not because they're gay, which is just fine by Mom and Pops--but because they are actually Mafia hit men. The folks are soon introduced to a wacky world in which gays are the ultimate in macho, hetero guys dote on cooking and sewing, and seemingly normal parents are bent on taking over the government through revolution. And all of this takes place during--what else--a big Italian wedding!
Writer Joseph Triebwasser and director Kristen Coury want to both entertain and warm our hearts so badly it hurts. Their work makes the clobbering minds behind My Big Fat Greek Wedding seem the apotheosis of subtlety and nuance by comparison. It's not even a fraction as much fun or as truly moving as the infinitely superior Mambo Italiano, which turned many of the same elements Friends and Family grotesquely exploits into pure comic gold. Our heroes find themselves faced with an entire platoon of their erstwhile goodfellas somehow coerced, for inane plot reasons, into impersonating homosexuals. And a more antiquated, offensive and ultimately clueless and unfunny display of swishing, lisping and single entendres we haven't seen since The Boys in the Band had 'em rolling in--and running up--the aisles.
Lauren and Gartin, whom we are assured are both straight in real life, are actually not bad, and rather disconcertingly touching together (although, as if this were some family-approved entertainment c. 1965, they never so much as brush cheeks). And, as the vagaries of film casting go, Brian Lane Green, former soap and Broadway stud, who is out of the closet in real life, plays a hetero fianc of the boys' longtime best gal pal, who they protect with the ferocity of any dons out of Coppola/Puzo. These three actors' subtle, even gallant work (under the circumstances) is, however, outweighed by the egregious hamming of actors like Edward Hibbert, Tovah Feldshuh and, especially, a positively grotesque Meshach Taylor, not to mention that entire cadre of pin-striped, cigar-chomping Italians posing as poufs.