Sharon Knolle Freelance Writer

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Published in The Rocket, November 18, 1998


REEL LIFE: Gods and Monsters

by Sharon Knolle
Oscar buzz is high for Sir Ian McKellen in this, the stronger of two buzzworthy roles this year. He plays aging movie director James Whale, best known for Frankenstein, who was found dead in his swimming pool under mysterious circumstances. Openly gay, Whale was downgraded from prestige pictures to less respectable horror films, which, ironically, are the reason he's remembered today. From this strange but true Hollywood occurrence springs a possible scenario for Whale's last few days, one which includes a hunky young gardener (Brendan Fraser). Even though he's in ill health, Whale still displays plenty of devilish charm, forcing an eager male film fan to disrobe in exchange for interview answers. This interlude brings on a stroke and Whale is urged by his mothering housekeeper (Lynn Redgrave) to take it easy. Then he spots the easy-on-the-eyes gardener and we know from the glint in the old man's eye that he hasn't listened to this motherly advice at all. It's obvious what Whale sees in the young man, who gradually comprehends that the elegant older gentleman is gay. What's less immediately apparent is what the young man gets out of the relationship. The hetero and homo dynamic is honestly and well played out (staying true to the intolerant 1950s, in which the film is set), and even though we know the end result, the arc of their relationship is still unpredictable.

Director Bill Condon deservedly earned a Best Director Golden Space Needle from the Seattle International Film Festival for this lushly photographed, masterfully handled film, which ends on a memorable grace note. Fraser, who was awarded the Best Actor Golden Space Needle last year finally earns that award, proving he's more than just a pretty chest.

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