Friday, September 19, 2008

Chris & Don: A Love Story (2007, Tina Mascara and Guido Santi)

The key to the film is right there in the title- it’s “a love story”, not “a gay love story,” or even “a different kind of love story.” That’s because the film essentially takes the idea that Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy were gay as its jumping-off point rather than its destination, to its credit. Since it gets the partners’ mutual sexual orientation out of the way at the beginning, it’s free to move on to other subjects, especially the age difference between the two, the experience gap that came from this, and the love that endured between them regardless of this. Of course, Isherwood was a literary celebrity, hobnobbing with movie stars and world-famous artists, and naturally Bachardy (thirty years his junior) would seem a bit out of sorts in this company. But whereas most people criticize such May-December romances by insisting that each is using the other (or worse, that the older party is "predatory"), Chris & Don shows us otherwise, at least in this particular instance. Part of this viewpoint comes from the fact that the film is Don’s story, and his gratitude for his 36 years with Chris plays a big part in his telling of it. Yet this was a truly loving couple, and as with any good relationship, there was real growth, at least on Don’s part. Instead of turning him into his “boy toy”, Chris encouraged Don to come into his own as an artist and a man, and eventually, while the Isherwood name opened doors for him, his talent could stand alone. And through the years, their love went through its various seasons, just like any other loving, lifelong relationship. In a way, Chris & Don may be the closest I’ve seen yet to a cinematic rebuke to the “defense of marriage” brigade- after all, wasn’t the complex but ultimately fulfilling love between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy basically a marriage in every sense but legally? Chris & Don may be no great shakes as cinema (it passes D’Angelo’s test for movie-worthiness largely on the basis of Bachardy’s presence), but it’s a moving story because Chris and Don, for all their uniqueness, are much like any other couple you’d meet, gay or straight. Rating: 7 out of 10.

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