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Jeffrey

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    More Complicated Than Meets the Eye

    Jeffrey is the very troubling story of the tension and the choice between risk and misery. Jeffrey (Steven Weber), a gay man in mid-1990's New York City, at the height of the AIDS crisis and before the widespread use of the protease inhibitors and antiretrovirals that have made HIV infection a manageable chronic condition rather than a death sentence, decides to forgo sex in order to avoid becoming infected. However, his resolve is tested when he almost immediately thereafter makes the acquaintance of a handsome man in his gym (Steve Howard [Michael T. Weiss]), who is deeply attracted to him but whom he rebuffs systematically for fear of getting infected. Jeffrey does not know at this point that Steve is HIV-positive, but it is almost irrelevant because he refuses to get involved with any man for fear of becoming infected. Yet, he continues to run into Steve at various events which at least on the surface tie them together as members of New York's gay community. Jeffrey does learn about Steve's HIV status later on, and that destroys even the faint glimmer of hope that Jeffrey could have had a relationship with him. But, as with many scenes in which he runs away from the risk of sex to avoid a premature death, he then faces mortality in some other way: being nearly run over by a taxi, getting bashed by a New York street gang, facing the unlistening, nasty world of secular evangelists, game shows, and mindless news reporters that nearly drives him to a nervous breakdown for failing to provide an answer to his predicament. Still, he has guides (Sterling the decorator, Darius the dancer from Cats, Mother Teresa) who hint to him at various points that his compulsive flight from the risks of sex, in order to avoid an early death, is a kind of death in itself. Nathan Lane, though a sex-hungry Catholic priest who tries to bed him down, does impart the kernel of wisdom that will ultimately turn the tide for Jeffrey, since he teaches him that life is and always will be miserable, and that Jeffrey therefore needs to seize any chance of happiness that presents itself, since ultimately what saves the world from collapse is not a divine being but the goodness in people, which implicitly is reflected in the goodness and decency of Steve. The story takes a crucial turn with the death of Darius, who comes back from the dead to tell Jeffrey that he should not let his fear of AIDS turn into a fear of living, an option that Darius himself no longer has. If Jeffrey is alive, Darius tells him, he should prove it by enjoying life. Sterling, on the other hand, scolds Jeffrey upon Darius's death and tells him something unexpected: That he should indeed go through the pain of losing a loved one--which some day might be Steve-- because, by implication, that loss would demonstrate just how precious life is, which is more valuable than the living death that Jeffrey has chosen in his over-protective, supervigilant renunciation of sex. Jeffrey has been fleeing the one thing he really needs and could have, a man who loves him and a man whom he can and should love. This message, when Sterling casts him away, finally hits home, and Jeffrey realizes that life is all the more precious when that which is most valuable in it is subject to loss. Far from being a comedy, despite the obligatory gay caricatures throughout, "Jeffrey" is a very sad story because Steve's love for Jeffrey is deep and genuine, and the way it is rebuffed by Jeffrey's not strongly empathetic selfishness (and Steve's reactions to this rebuff), shows how stellar Michael T. Weiss's performance really is. This gorgeous man is one of the undersung heroes of American film. He hits every scene with exactly the right note. In the end, his decency, goodness, and understanding of love triumphs over Jeffrey's compulsiveness, fear, and paranoia.

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