I saw this film many years ago, before I become so interested in gay issues. It struck me then as a very dishonest film and I didnít really enjoy it. I still think it has some very major flaws, but this time around I couldnít help but be affected by the wonderful performance of Tom Hanks in the lead role, as the lawyer dying of AIDS.
I suppose for the time this film was made, it was a brave attempt to portray the discrimination people with HIV or AIDS were facing. But it all seems rather worthy. It looks like a film made by heterosexuals, rather like the early civil rights films were made by white people. Itís patronising.
Andrewís life as a gay man is presented as almost being whiter than white. Itís as if we would lose some sympathy for him if he were presented as a frequenter of bathhouses, for example. The film almost sets up the premise that Andrewís death is tragic because heís such a nice cultured man, with the American dream family. I prefer more honesty in my films. However, it is unfair to judge a film that was in its own way a forerunner of gay movies. It was made in 1993, and frighteningly it actually looks rather dated. Great strides have been made in gay movies since this time, and now gay men can be shown being honest and living their lives without the criticism inherent in Philadelphia.
However, for all that, this movie was groundbreaking. Tom Hanks is wonderful and youíd have to be pretty hard-boiled not to shed a tear or two at the end. You donít need any spoilers to guess where this film goes.
Iíve watched a few AIDS movies recently, but until last night not the most famous one.† My reaction would have been different ten years ago, or before reading James Robert Baker.† Whatever you think of the film, Tom Hanks does an amazing job in his demanding role as a yuppy lawyer with AIDS, though Denzel Washington almost steals the show.† I think Hanks wins on a sympathy vote.†
I couldnít help but compare this big budget Hollywood effort with small gems like Parting Glances, Longtime Companion, and World and Time Enough.† It falls short in one very important area, ironic for a film about discrimination and prejudice:† this is a story about a gay man thatís afraid to actually deal with what that means.† Now I donít know if Hanks himself had anything to do with that.† The story goes he refused to be seen kissing co-star Antonio Banderas.† To be fair they have intimate and tender moments, just not very many of them and tucked away so as not to alienate straight males watching.†
In the commentary the writer says they didnít want to show sexual situations because thatís not what the film is about.† While that may be valid, itís a cop-out.† They knew a Hollywood film with men naked and sweaty would scare off the money men and those hetero guys in the multiplexes.† As a result you have a man with full-blown AIDS who apparently doesnít have sex or do anything risky to explain how he got it, save for a brief mention in court of a single visit to a porn theatre for a casual encounter.† Heís got a gorgeous boyfriend, Miguel, (Banderas) who lurks in the background, occasionally holding a hand or changing an IV drip and looking supportive.† Why on earth did they bother to get Antonio, a man who has demonstrated his ability to play gay in several acclaimed films, if they werenít going to use him as more than eye-candy?
What you get, therefore, is a castrated movie, that loses impact because it ends up a worthy courtroom drama about discrimination and bigotry, featuring a saintly character who, like the woman infected by a blood transfusion called to testify, is an innocent victim, because God forbid we should be asked to feel sorry for a sexually promiscuous gay man.
Iím not the filmís target audience.† It reaches out to the prejudiced and ignorant, to teach them that gay people are just like them, with families that love & support them.† It links homophobia with racial discrimination and the struggle for gay rights as part of equality for all.† Given it was made in the early 90s long before QAF or Will & Grace, you have to commend the filmmakers.
Hanks certainly deserved his Oscar.† I really liked his beautifully developed relationship with Denzelís Everyman character.† He helps the dying lawyer bring a punitive suit for unfair dismissal against his former employers, not because he supports gay rights but because Hanks has nowhere else to turn, and his conscience wonít let him stand by, despite strong feelings against homosexuals.† Itís fascinating viewing to see how far weíve come from days when it was groundbreaking to show a positive gay character.† Nice to think he could now be seen to get naked with his lover in a mainstream film like forthcoming Brokeback Mountain, though reports arenít promising.†