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Chris & Don: A Love Story (DVD Review)

14 Feb, 2009 By: Billy Gil

Street 2/24/09
Box Office $0.2 million
$29.99 DVD
Not rated.

When I first heard of Chris & Don: A Love Story, the film about the long relationship between writer Chris Isherwood (Berlin Stories, which became Cabaret) and his 30-years-younger partner, portraitist Don Bachardy, I thought: Who cares?

But, then again, I live in liberal California, and much of the country is still abuzz over Sam Adams, the Portland, Ore., mayor facing a witchhunt over his admitted, and admittedly wrong, past gay relationship with a minor whom he mentored. And even here, the passage of Proposition 8 is still fresh.

So a film like Chris & Don, which illuminates the tender and complicated relationship between two gay men, is a welcome thing. Chris & Don proudly continues the trend of sympathetic gay characters and relationships in Hollywood films in recent years, in popular movies such as Brokeback Mountain and Milk.

Isherwood’s and Bachardy’s relationship, which spans from a youthful Bachardy meeting established writer Isherwood to the power dynamics and open infidelity that followed, is never shown judgmentally, as friends and Bachardy himself retell their story fondly with the aid of photos and home videos of the two.

It’s far from the simplistic stereotypes and, worse, gross exaggerations Hollywood traditionally has stocked for gay men (The Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill and even gay writer-director Alan Ball’s in-the-closet killer Col. Frank Fitts, played by Chris Cooper in American Beauty, come to mind).

As a film, Chris & Don occasionally falters with yawn-inducing stretches that only Isherwood fans, and fans of old Hollywood stars and writer friends of Isherwood (the likes of Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote), will care about. But the overall tale is a positive one and has enough moments of interest to entertain casual viewers and will delight those seeking realistic portrayals of gay relationships.

Hopefully, after seeing a film like Chris & Don, even more-prejudiced viewers will also think, well, what’s the big deal?

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