Parting Glances (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★
Robert (John Bolger) is set to live in Africa for two years due to a work-related assignment. His boyfriend, Michael (Richard Ganuong), is not exactly happy with the upcoming change especially since it means Robert will not be present when Nick (Steve Buscemi), Michael’s best friend whom he also happens to have romantic feelings toward, inevitably goes through the late stages of AIDS.
“Parting Glances,” written and directed by Bill Sherwood, is neither a cheap LGBTQ picture where the dramatic elements function on a level of soap opera nor is it a comedy where the jokes have easy targets and the situations can happen only in fantasyland. Instead, it finds a pulse that rings true: the fear of losing a friend.
Dropping into the lives of gay men in New York City, the film is not interested in clean introductions and proper resolutions. It goes where Michael goes—the apartment Michael and Robert share, a dinner with Robert’s boss (Patrick Tull), a goodbye party thrown by Joan (Kathy Kinney), Nick’s depressing apartment—and we are there with him as he engages in conversations with people with something or nothing at all to say. When the camera stops moving and there is little noise in the background, Michael—and the audience—is reminded of the sadness and frustration he tries to keep at bay.
The picture could have had an unnecessary subplot but the writer-director is one step ahead of our expectations. Although a character named Peter (Adam Nathan), a college student who works at the record store that Michael frequents, is introduced and on screen for a good amount of time, there is not one scene where he is forced into the plot. He suggests to Michael that they ought to go out on a date, but he gets brushed off on more than one occasion. Peter is not told why but what matters is we know the reason.
Buscemi does not play his AIDS-infected character as a pathetic, wilting figure. He makes a fresh choice by not showing Nick as physically sick. Remove the dialogue and it is highly unlikely one can guess he is living with a fatal disease. By playing the character like a healthy person—having us see him full of life—it underlines what will soon be taken away.
The story touched me because the images reminded me of a friend who was taken too soon. In a way, I saw myself through Michael because he gets to do things I wish I had done. He gets to embrace his friend tightly. He expresses how much he loves Nick and how much he will miss their friendship.