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Biblical Contortions

Adam & Steve's original sin puts the brakes on a blooming romance.

If you're craving an antidote to the sanctity of repressed gay cowboys, you could do worse than Adam & Steve. This good-natured comedy from writer-director Craig Chester uses gently sly wit to poke fun at neurotic gay singles, coming of age in the 1980s and dating in the era of recovery. It also features Parker Posey as an angry, chubby, goth fag hag who does standup comedy; when she advises her best friend to be more aggressive with the hombres, she tells him, "Adam, you're 21. You're, like, almost thirty." For her alone, you could see this movie.

Though flawed in the way of so many romantic comedies -- it's much weaker with the romance than with the comedy -- Adam & Steve truly falters only in the rare moments when it takes itself too seriously. Somehow, even the fat jokes are inoffensive -- perhaps because Posey's entire standup routine revolves around being fat, even once she isn't. Or because the film's tone is so loving that it has room to appreciate Midwestern Christian parents, "Dazzle Dancers" and Chris Kattan, the former Saturday Night Live cast member whose legend, some would say, should have burned out long before his candle ever did.

The film opens in the late '80s, when protagonist Adam (played by Chester) is a shy, self-loathing goth who nevertheless sasses in the face of a chipper Dazzle Dancer: "We're goths. We don't dance. We're dead." When Adam's friend Rhonda (Posey) tells him to "just be yourself," he asks, "What's that?" Neither actor looks close to the appropriate age (21), but that's part of the joke; we're willing to spend time with them because they're sweet and darkly funny. So is the dancer, with whom Adam ends up having a catastrophic formative experience. As in, his coke addiction begins here.

Flash forward seventeen years. Gone is the white makeup, the black hair dye, the raccoon eyeliner -- everything but the underlying neuroses. Chester's script smartly keeps most elements of Adam and Rhonda's relationship intact, including her advice that he be more aggressive because he's aging. (This time, however, he really is "almost forty.") Both are still single and still self-sabotaging, if slightly less so. Adam has formed a committed attachment…to his dog, whom he accidentally stabs while slicing salami in bed. Yes, it's ridiculous, and made only more so by the ensuing scene, in which he races the dog to a (human) hospital and demands care. Surely the talented Chester (who earned his chops as an indie film actor) could have contrived a slightly more believable way for his leads to find one another? Even a car accident could have more ably hefted the weight of the impending coincidence.

Of course, the two must meet -- Adam and Steve, the former goth and former Dazzle Dancer -- and begin a relationship without realizing that they shared a traumatic evening nearly twenty years before. Steve (Malcolm Gets) is a doctor who agrees to deal with the dog, and the men feel a connection amid the suturing. So begins the movie's annoying portion, in which the flirtation is cringingly overwritten, the characters cease to act like recognizable human beings, and lifelong emotional patterns are suddenly, miraculously resolved. Steve is a player, Adam's a worrier; they can work through it, though we never see how. Actually, the real wrench in the works -- the fact that Steve introduced Adam to cocaine -- doesn't surface until well into the movie, when it can't get the attention it deserves.

But through it all, the great lines keep coming. When Steve's jerkily adolescent straight roommate (Kattan) complains that, in pursuing a monogamous relationship, Steve is abandoning ship, Steve justifies his longing: "Maybe I'm tired of one hot sexual encounter after another. Maybe I want to find out what it's like to have okay sex with the same person on a regular basis." And later, when Steve worries that he and Adam are too damaged to make their relationship work, Adam says, "We're in our thirties. Of course we're damaged." (There are more subtle touches, too, as when Adam is seated on a park bench reading The Drama of the Gifted Child -- and nobody mentions it.)

In the end, Adam & Steve is so generous of spirit that you can't help but enjoy it. In Posey and Kattan, Adam and Steve have excellent foils, and the energy among the four of them is a joy to watch. In his writing and directing, Chester has found a tone that's both knowing and sweet, ironic and heartfelt. He places his characters in cringingly compromising positions, but never condescends to them. The result is a maturity that transcends the movie's silly notions of romance.

 
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