November 26, 2011

Queer Review: Partners (1982)

Director: James Burrows
Writer: Francis Veber
Cast: Ryan O'Neal, John Hurt, Kenneth McMillan, Robyn Douglass, Jay Robinson,

A cop "buddy" comedy, like so many that were made in the 1980's, with the exception that here, one of the Partners happens to be gay. While some may label this "progress" and such, it's not difficult to find a dozen or so films that came earlier that were more daring and radical, not to mention better made.

After the police department is criticized for failing to solve the murder of a gay man, Chief Wilkins (Kenneth McMillan) assigns the clichéd manly Detective Sergeant Benson (Ryan O'Neal) to go undercover with the clichéd gay desk officer, Kerwin (John Hurt). Naturally, this means that the two will spend the remainder of the film bonding with each other, while tracking down clues about the killer. For the most part, Benson works through his homophobia by uttering homophobic remarks whenever he gets angry and having sex with lots of women, while Kerwin cooks and does the laundry for both of them.

In other words, see Cruising and just add gay sidekick!

The Queering
As a viewer, you know your in trouble when a scene in a comedy that's played for drama gets more laughs then most of the scenes that are meant to be funny. Yup, that's right. This is a comedy minus any intentional comedy, a dramatic romance that veers into comedy, and a central mystery most likely likely to provoke the same kind of yawns suffered by a high-schooler trying to read War and Peace.

In the film's defence, it never manages to sink to Cruising's level of homophobia or become as painful to watch as Another Gay Movie. Instead Partners falls into pretty much the same category as I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry of a well meaning film that could pass for progressive and radical under certain circumstances, such as having been released back in the 50's. Thankfully, there's no equivalent scene here of having to watch Adam Sandler fondle a women's breasts, while she blissfully thinks he is straight...

There are many issues that I had with John Hurt's Kerwin. For starters, he never mentions having a boyfriend or having ever been in a relationship with another man. Given Kerwin's age, this is certainly rather odd. Then there is the fact that Kerwin is such a wall flower that he never defends himself whenever Benson uses a homophobic slur. As such, the relationship that develops between Benson and Kerwin felt borderline abusive to me, with Kerwin acting more like Benson's clingy servant than equal partner.

Then there is the ending, which has Kerwin saving Benson from the killer and getting shot for his efforts. Thankfully he does not die for this, but while part of me appreciated that Kerwin got to be all heroic and such, another part of me wanted to yell out, "Hello! The Hays Code was over before the 70's. You no longer *need* to punish someone just for being gay! Sheesh!" Progress, this is not.

If your partner suggests watching this, it's not time to break up, but it would still be worth considering.

The Rating

(Quick, spot which one of them is gay! It's so hard, ain't it?)

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1 comment:

  1. This movie has all the flaws you describe. But you have to examine it under the light of time. You have to watch it like you watch Vivien Leigh play Scarlet or see Shirley Temple in Curly Top. This was Hollywood asking itself and the public, "Hey, can we talk about this? And laugh? Be serious? Can we talk about it like its real?"

    It's not a comfortable movie to watch if you didn't live through that time. Break out the rose colored glasses. For me it's what made the subject of coming out to my mom a possibility.


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