Desiring minds

Movie: Love and Death on Long Island

Our Rating: 4.00

You won't find a sweeter tribute to the pleasures of kitsch than "Love and Death on Long Island," a wonderful little film that uses popular culture as the touchstone for a sensitive rumination on the nature of obsession in all its forms.

John Hurt portrays Giles De'Ath, a nearly reclusive English author whose tendency to refer to radio as "the wireless" is the most overt sign that he's paid almost zero heed to the cultural advances of the late 20th century. That all changes when, on a rare visit to the "cinema," he mistakenly stumbles into a screening of "Hotpants College II," a destined-for-Comedy Central teen romp starring heartthrob Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley). One glimpse of Bostock's boyish grin is all it takes for De'Ath to become fixated on the second-string hunk's irresistible charms and the heretofore-unexplored world of sitcoms and fan magazines that spawned him.

Soon, De'Ath is purchasing his first VCR to catch up on Bostock's oeuvre -- including the actioner "Skid Marks" and the ludicrous plea for Anglo-Mexican understanding, "Tex Mex." De'Ath justifies his immersion as fascination with a talented young star whose low-brow comedies are the spiritual inheritors of Shakespearean ribaldry. When he sets out to find Bostock at his Long Island home, however, it's clear that De' Ath's intellectual self-delusion masks a deeper, more personal longing.

In another film De'Ath might have become a subject for ridicule, but first-time feature director Richard Kwietniowski doesn't take that cheap and easy road. Instead he lets De'Ath signify the primal, undeniable urges that move even the most elevated among us. It's clear that Kwietniowski loves De'Ath as much as De'Ath loves Bostock, and the director has the talent to make us share his affection.

Kwietniowski's attention to even the smallest details ensures that the movie-within-a-movie glimpses of Ronnie's work are dead-on send-ups of big-screen mediocrity, from their cheesy opening credits to their overblown dialogue. Some of the film's other subtleties are barely noticeable: At one point, De'Ath ventures into a Long Island book shop where he's confronted with a window full of Stephen King paperbacks; later, he passes a movie marquee advertising a showing of "The Raft," one of King's more obscure short stories.

That level of care makes "Love and Death" a joy to watch. By the film's conclusion, the question of whether or not De'Ath's love for Bostock will be requited is nearly moot. What counts is that De'Ath has been liberated by the experience of loving something supposedly beneath him. He's learned that projecting your hopes and dreams onto a blank screen is the surest way to remind yourself that they were all yours to project in the first place.


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