“Ronnie Bostock has brought me into contact with all I never have been.” – Giles
This is the John Hurt obscurity that became an essential must-see following the actors’ death. Love and Death on Long Island (1998) is a character study of a stuffy Brit longing for the unattainable in a world he knows nothing about. It should be impossible to make this film convincing, but so it is. Hurt’s Giles De’Ath is a creaky old British writer who despises anything modern, coming close to being the most boring human being portrayed in a movie since Anthony Hopkins in “The Remains of the Day.” Take that one. Except while Hopkins was a boring human who becomes dictated by duty and ideals, that film itself is endlessly fascinating to me probably because it risks it all and goes all in. The same goes for this one.
The way Giles turns out to be not that boring but a man with hidden fantasies is part of this tale’s strange charms, and indeed, his journey turns into spry comedy unexpectedly. I’m thinking the character of Giles hasn’t been to a movie for thirty years. After accidentally locking himself out of his house, he decides to go see an E.M. Forster adaptation but takes him a few minutes to realize he has stumbled into “Hotpants College II.” It might as well been “Porky’s.” He haughtily grabs his coat to leave but is caught frozen when the image of a particular actor named Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley) stops him in his tracks. He is mesmerized.
Most of the wry humor is derived from the idea that Giles is in denial about why he becomes obsessed with Ronnie and his list of film credits that include “Tex Mex” and “Skidmarks.” There are humorous exchanges between Giles and the employees at a video rental store. At home, a movie magazine clipping says, “‘Hotpants College II’ is a puerile romp without a single redeeming feature.” Yet Giles clamors what a special actor Ronnie is with truthful nuances that rise above the material. Actually, he begins a theory about the unexpected findings of beauty in the world that could be a thesis to his next book.
Yes, here is a man who is not sexual in the usual discernible way, and yet there are sparing hints of it for the rest of the film that he is for the first time in a categorically celibate life that he is infatuated with, well, a sex object. This triggers Giles on a quest from Britain to Long Island to stalk Ronnie Bostock, yet in his mind, he shall do it with good taste. He meets Ronnie’s girlfriend Audrey (Fiona Loewi) first in his trek, and uses a great glossary of words to praise Ronnie’s talents so perhaps it can spark a get-together.
Giles gets leeway because he can come off as a renown writer of important works, so of course Audrey lets him in. Priestley, known for the teen prime-time soap “Beverly Hills 90210” during the 1990’s, turns out to be pitch perfect as this guileless B-movie star with dude-like interests but with serious thespian aspirations, and yet loves rhetorical feedback from a guy like Giles. As for Giles, well, Ronnie could be less than dreamy in person and yet nothing can stop him from interpreting Ronnie as this dreamboat. There is a diner conversation at the end of the film that lays all feelings bare, and you just want the character to stuff a sock in it. In a ruefully funny way, stuff it, I mean. Hurt, from top to bottom and inside out, is absolutely brilliant the whole way through.
I should say Giles’ story hits me with some empathy. There are people in this world that would ask me with a cringe as to why an arty guy like myself would want to watch “Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” and so I hide it, because I wouldn’t want them to know of my helpless lust for Anne Hathaway.
Note: “Love and Death on Long Island” was directed by Richard Kwietnioski whose career was sadly limited due to lack of commercial success, but did coax Philip Seymour Hoffman to give one of his best performances in “Owning Mahowny” (2003), also featuring Hurt in a great supporting performance. When it comes to Hurt, you look at all the Best Actor winners from 1998 and you have to wonder, from Ian McKellan in “Gods and Monsters” to Roberto Benigni in “Life is Beautiful,” how so many award group polls could have gotten it so wrong.
103 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
COMEDY-DRAMA / ADULT ORIENTATION / SPRING AWAKENING