David Searching covers basically the same terrain as Parting Glances, Jeffrey and Lie Down With Dogs, i.e., a young gay man's pursuit of love in the Big City. It certainly means well, but it's oh-so-derivative, trite and ultimately cloying. David (Anthony Rapp) has been celibate for two years, holding out for the Real Thing in the face of all manner of instant street pickups and torturous dinner dates. His Earth Mother of a roommate, Gwen (Camryn Manheim), lends as much moral support as she can, caught up as she is in her own tangled affair with 'the world's politest man,' Walter (Joseph Fuqua). David has a chance meeting with cabaret entertainer Julie Halston (played by herself), who becomes a sort of fairy godmother to him, helping him promote his documentary filmmaking career. As his dream project consists of filming various people's answer to the question 'What do you hold to be the absolute truth?', he'll obviously need all the help he can get.

It's all been done before: the lonely, navel-gazing protagonist, the cutesy prospective roommate/date-interview montages, the fat but succoring female friend, the one-man celibacy campaign, the arty Downtown milieu, the phantom, elusive Mr. Right. Writer-director Leslie L. Smith brings very little novelty to his boho party. It was clearly made on a shoestring and looks every tattered inch of it. The comic pacing is erratic when discernible, the camera placement often unsure. The music is a doleful affair, sprinkled with 'introspective' songs ('Woke up today and found out I'd been missing/Have you ever been missing?'; 'So shut down/Like a train I just couldn't move') that recall the worst self-indulgences of the '60s. Adding to the retro feel are the scenes set in a sex club, which are as grim and dismally self-hating as anything in The Boys in the Band or The Detective.

And yet the damned thing is rather affecting withal. Credit must go largely to Halston, who spikes it at regular intervals with sorely needed shots of urban vinegar and sass. She's an Eve Arden for the '90s: caustically observant, spike heels firmly planted, protective as a lioness and utterly in control. She's every little boy's dream gal pal. The film offers a tantalizing bit of her club act, which in a couple of minutes achieves exactly the tone and pithy wit so lacking in the formal script. Her aplomb is such that even a revelatory scene of her being caretaker to an AIDS-stricken lover is devoid of mawkishness and far more real than all the grandiose huffing and puffing in the entirety of Philadelphia.

Lunar-pale Rapp (who must be the whitest man on the planet) is simply not interesting enough. (Best known for Broadway's Rent, he played the documentarian in that on a single note of arm-waving freneticism.) Admittedly, the material is enough to defeat anyone. 'I walk around thinking about Hamlet all the time,' he whines. 'You know, 'To be or not to be.'' His overall blandness makes certain rash actions of his-like suddenly slugging the man of his dreams (David Courier) when he finds him at that sex club-seem merely nonsensical rather than fueled by romantic passion. And when he films the poor guy while he's asleep following their initial tryst, he's just plain creepy. (Anyone with any sense would flee for their lives, but Rapp gets his man in the contrived happy ending.) He's a good, patient listener, though, which definitely sets him apart in garrulous, egomaniacal Gotham.

A bevy of familiar off-Broadway and indie faces appear as various hopeful, neurotic suitors: Michael Rupert, Craig Chester, Stephen Spinella, John Cameron Mitchell, David Drake. Fuqua has perhaps the most irritating character of all, expressing himself in an endlessly arcane manner, yet somehow emerges as a likeable fellow. Kathleen Chalfant gets to do a tiresome, black-and-white grande dame turn as David's sage grandmother. Both Manheim's role and performance are pure clich. Her little tantrums over David's non-comprehension of her inscrutable moods and unexpressed feelings seem narcissistic more than anything else. It's a real wish-fulfillment that this albino nerd and hefty mama, neither of whom seem anything special, should be so devastatingly attractive for le tout Greenwich Village.

--David Noh