|Alfred Molina and Gary Oldman|
Midway through Prick Up Your Ears, biographer John Lahr (Wallace Shawn) talks to some of the late Joe Orton's relatives, wiggles his hand, and says, "did you know he was 'that way.'" This sort of sets the tone for this condescending biopic of the playwright Orton (Gary Oldman of Criminal Law), who was murdered by his longtime companion, Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina of The Hoax), before the latter committed suicide. The whole tone of the movie is off-putting, starting with the decision to make John Lahr (upon whose biography this is based and who was co-producer of the film), and his wife, unnecessary characters in the film and even having them and an agent played by Vanessa Redgrave providing non-illuminating commentary throughout. Was Lahr's ego so big that he needed to put himself into the movie? Prick Up Your Ears bounces back and forth in time and never seems cohesive, nor does it make the characters come alive the way they should, focusing more on Orton's sexual escapades than his life and work. The performances are only okay. Oldman somewhat resembles Orton, but the real Halliwell was much better-looking than Molina. Orton's plays were erotic black comedies, and it may be that the filmmakers wanted this picture to reflect that -- Orton and Halliwell had many good times in spite of their horrible ending -- but making a nominal black comedy out of their ultimately tragic lives still seems in poor taste, as if it's "who cares what these funny fags did to each other?" Whatever these two men were really like -- and this film doesn't let us know -- they deserved better than this. Worse was to come: Orton, a campy musical comedy about the two men that played in London. Stephen Frears also directed the equally poor Florence Foster Jenkins.
Verdict: The movie may have seemed progressive thirty years ago, but it doesn't really work today. **.