Growing Up, Coming Out … Bond Goes Bad; the Girl, Too

Growing Up, Coming Out

In a beautiful Brazilian song by Ivan Lins called “Evolution,” there’s a line that cuts deep to the nerve of much that is wrong with the world today: “We can travel to the planets/ Drive a while through solid granite./ Thrive in all extremes of weather/ But cannot live together.” In the current fog of sadness-from a high school in Colorado to a war in Kosovo-it is comforting to find two small, independent, low-budget movies about teenagers that show dignity and responsibility in promoting compassion and understanding for kids who are just a little bit different.

The two 16-year-old boys in Get Real , from England, and Edge of Seventeen , from the American heartland, are attractive, healthy, sensitive, intelligent, talented and witty in ways that would make parents, peers and educators proud to know them. They are also gay. After following their pain and fear and struggles until they cope with their lives with pride, you’ll learn to love them unconditionally.

In Get Real , the more polished and universal of the two films, the excellent young actor Ben Silverstone plays Steven Carter, a charming achiever in a respectable community in British suburbs who masks his frustration in the closet by trying too hard to please everyone in town, while secretly fantasizing about his crush on the school joker, John Dixon (Brad Gorton), the most popular student on campus and already the idol of every beautiful girl in school. Steve’s misery and growing pains are shared only by his best friend and confidante, his overweight next-door neighbor Linda (Charlotte Brittain).

One day, by accident, Steve has a surprising encounter with John in a park rest- room frequented by homosexuals, and the attraction that develops into a secret love affair changes both of their lives irreversibly. Steve risks everything for love, but John has an even harder time trying to lead a double life-protecting his superstar status with his parents, teammates and girlfriends at Steve’s expense-while enjoying the only happiness he’s ever known, when they are alone together.

But it is Steve who finally summons the awesome courage to come out of the closet publicly at the high school commencement ceremonies where he is honored for journalism and John is being saluted for athletics. In the moment of truth, the weaker boy finds the guts to challenge his lover, parents, teachers and the entire town while the stronger boy holds back in shame, hiding behind conformity and cowardice. The consequences are both heroic and daunting for Steve, but John is the real loser.

Skillfully directed by Simon Shore, Get Real has uniformly touching performances by a marvelous cast of newcomers and an undeniable conscience that is rare in movies about troubled teenagers. Young Ben Silverstone, who played Jeremy Irons as a boy in Lolita , is a viable star in the making.

Edge of Seventeen , the more conventional of the two films, also features a charismatic, young actor named Chris Stafford as the tortured and closeted gay protagonist, this time in an Ohio high school in 1984. This time, the anxious teenager gets a summer job in an amusement park hamburger joint, falls for a strapping blond busboy who abuses and deserts him, and learns to accept his sexuality after several mistakes in judgment and before he discovers his first gay bar.

The writing (by Todd Stephens) and direction (by David Moreton) are untidy, but the film gets along on its own sweetness and sincerity before everyone removes the masks and realizes it’s O.K. to be who and what you are in life. Mr. Stratton is funny, tender, vulnerable and appealing, and there’s a surprisingly restrained performance by Lea DeLaria as a butch lesbian who gives him the kind of tea and sympathy he doesn’t get at home. (The highlight is Ms. DeLaria’s passionate vocal on “Blue Skies” that reveals her in a startling new light as a jazz diva to reckon with.)

Coming-out movies are not new. They’ve replaced losing virginity movies from the days of Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee. But they make a poignant plea for understanding each other by understanding our children first.

Bond Goes Bad; the Girl, Too

No lavish adjectives come to mind with Entrapment , an expensive-looking, high-tech millennium caper of no consequence, but it has a certain entertainment value for escapists with a couple of hours to kill. Slickly directed by Jon Amiel and attractively cast with sexy septuagenarian Sean Connery and luscious Catherine ( Mask of Zorro ) Zeta-Jones, it wastes the time and talents of some amiable people on a Y2K plot that is pretty much preposterous and some pretty scenery that jets cast and crew from Manhattan to London to the lochs of western Scotland to the banking vaults of Kuala Lumpur. Titles flash on the screen from scene to scene to let you know where you are, but nobody tells you why. It’s the kind of movie in which beautifully dressed, well-groomed secret agents appear on different continents in a matter of hours without luggage and nobody ever has jet lag.

Mr. Connery is Mac, the world’s greatest art thief. When a priceless Rembrandt is stolen in New York, threatening a big insurance company with a $24 million loss, Ms. Zeta-Jones, as a gorgeous, fearless investigator named Gin, poses as a rival art thief with an elaborate plot to trap Mac. For no explainable reason, he trusts her. For even less fathomable reasons, she endures weeks of rigorous training and rehearsal under his supervision in a fabulous castle in Scotland so they can join forces to steal a 2,000-year-old Chinese mask worth $40 million, planning every boring move on computers.

The actual heist proves less believable than the elaborate preparatory work and involves helicoptering from the Scottish Isles to one of the ancient fortresses of England for a masked ball, swimming in a moat, and blowing a hole through the floor to the timing of a clock striking midnight. The stars are so alluring-she does it all in high heels and he wasn’t James Bond for nothing. Any hint of perspiration looks like cologne.

Before she catches him, he catches her. Sexual attraction and nerves of steel prove irresistible and she turns traitor to her firm and the F.B.I. with a second, even bigger heist-robbing the International Clearance Bank in Malaysia at the bewitching hour on Dec. 31, 1999, when its computers, not yet Y2K-compliant, fail, transferring $8 billion from computers throughout Southeast Asia into her own personal checking account. “It’s impossible,” says Mac between discreet kisses in the sheets (no nudity, please-this is a Sean Connery movie), “but doable.”

The movie is impossible, too, but watchable, thanks to the two stars. The screen’s most durable man and a girl whose almond eyes and throwaway grin remind me of Natalie Wood in her prime look more like father and daughter, but you wouldn’t mind seeing them in a stronger vehicle. Throughout the movie, protesters march with placards counting down the days “until the end of the world.” If only this warning would also mean an end to millennium movies like Entrapment .

Ann Sothern: Maisie to MoMA

Tributes to the great ladies of the silver screen always overlook glamorous, wise-cracking, hard-boiled Ann Sothern. The Museum of Modern Art rectifies that error at last with a joyous retrospective May 7 to May 16 that includes the Maisie movies that launched her career as well as some of her serious dramatic roles.

In her M-G-M heyday, trucks arrived with sacks of mail addressed, simply, to “Maisie, U.S.A.” Ten popular films as the dumb-as-a-fox honky-tonk singer with a heart of cotton candy made her a star and almost wrecked her career, but after the decline of the studio system, Ann Sothern proved her range and versatility in A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and became a weekly TV staple. In living rooms from coast to coast, she was seen on Private Secretary and The Ann Sothern Show as one of the first modern working feminists.

Each film will be introduced by taped interviews with this amazing survivor, including salty, racy, candid opinions on everything from studio bondage to Grace Kelly’s secret reputation as a sexpot, based on firsthand experience. If her health permits, she may travel from her home in Idaho to greet the public in person. Call 708-9480 for the full schedule and for tickets.