Sunday

PSH - Always FLAWLESS

                                                                                 


(Originally published: February 05 2014 01:00  in the Providence Journal)


In the next little while, the media will be describing every possible angle of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman’s life. He died Sunday — probably from an overdose. Hoffman had bravely told the world last year that he was losing his long battle with his drug addiction: He had fallen off the wagon and was headed for rehab — again.

As part of the post mortem, his films will be endlessly analyzed until the one-of-a-kind stamp Hoffman left on every role he played is blurred. People will recall his Oscar-winning best actor performance in “Capote” and the challenging electricity between him and Meryl Streep in “Doubt.” They will surely mention his last big movie, with the equally eccentric Joachim Phoenix, “The Master.”

Few will talk about my Hoffman favorite, a 1999 drama with romantic-comedy edges called “Flawless,” about an ultraconservative street-wise New Yorker (Robert DeNiro) who has a stroke and becomes dependent on his much-hated neighbor, a drag queen played beautifully by Hoffman. “Flawless” was made 15 years ago, when Hoffman was cleaner and more sober and DeNiro had not yet used his great talent playing second banana to Billy Crystal.

One poster for “Flawless” showed a color portrait of Hoffman in drag and DeNiro at a piano. This final scene of the film, behind the rolling credits, shows the queen using musical notes, drilled over and over, for speech therapy for DeNiro. One copywriter added, “They couldn’t like each other less, or need each other more.”

Watching a bevy of drag queens and a tough, homophobic street guy bond is pure delight. The queens bringing comfort and gifts to the stroke victim is the mirror image of the scene in “Zorba” when the dying heroine lies helpless and unaware as shrieking Greek widows plunder her home.

As a movie buff, I have watched many of Hoffman’s films — some twice or more. Though he was real and mesmerizing, we loved him because he was like most of us — imperfect.

He wasn’t breathtaking, like Johnny Depp, or intense like Ben Affleck. He was not a great romantic lead like Montgomery Clift. Hoffman was just the person he was playing — perfectly. He was an average drag queen, a real one, not a rare hermaphroditic beauty like the Lady Chablis in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” or Peter O’Toole, about whom Noel Coward noted they “would have had to call it Florence of Arabia” had the star been any more beautiful.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drag queen was, instead, your gay cousin from Pawtucket. He wasn’t a man you’d mistake for a beautiful woman, but a gay man, in drag, feminizing his aid to a bigot who might otherwise feel threatened by a nurse who was too much of a “guy.”
How brilliant.

Like millions of movie fans, I shall miss him, but I shall never forget him.
                                               ______________________

Mary Ann Sorrentino (thatmaryann@yahoo.com) writes from Cranston and Hillsboro Beach, Fla.

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