Picks and Pans Review: Torch Song Trilogy

updated 01/09/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/09/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Harvey Fierstein's terrific 1982 Tony-winning comedy-drama about a female impersonator (played by Fierstein) longing to settle down with the right man has been cut, compromised and sitcomized into a 120-minute movie. No problem figuring out why. The four-hour play, set mostly in the 1970s, was written before the specter of AIDS dramatically altered gay sexuality. In adapting his theater piece with an eye to the box office, Fierstein has stuck to the pre-AIDS time period, toned down the eroticism and gay-rights proselytizing and hyped up the humor. He gets his chuckles, but too often at the expense of honest conviction. There are welcome remnants of the play's power in Fierstein's love affair with Brian (Murphy's Romance) Kerwin, superb as a bisexual who confesses his confusion in a scene of shattering impact. Matthew Broderick is also funny and moving as a model who responds to Fierstein's caring nature. In these moments, the gifted, gravel-voiced Fierstein pitches his performance to the cadences of the heart and catches us up in the humanity of his story. The rest of the movie is blasted at the second balcony. Instead of acting the role of Fierstein's controlling Jewish mother, Anne Bancroft screams it with oy-vay obviousness. Bancroft still thinks her son will find the right girl, marry and have kids. There is a son, a gay 15-year-old (Eddie Castrodad) whom Fierstein adopts, but this is not what Mamma had in mind. TV director Paul Bogart stages the family sequences as if he were still doing episodes of Alice or The Golden Girls. Wrong approach, Fierstein's anguished cry for tolerance is muffled by a movie that aims to delight even when it should disturb. (R)

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