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Every time I see that strange-faced young actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, I am impressed by his range and his ability to be present in his role. Whether it's the sensitive and intelligent male nurse in Magnolia or the perverted loser in Happiness, Hoffman is as versatile and talented as Dustin. Of course, Dustin has had his share of lemons, and I feel that Flawless is not one of Hoffman's best. Nor is it one of De Niro's best. Both actors are plenty good, don't get me wrong. And the fact that they, as actors, lean on one another in much the same way that their characters in this movie do seems to make it all hold together--and makes for a relatively good viewing experience after all.
Flawless tells the tale of a New York tenement building where a big batch of freaks live. There are drug dealers, losers, and elderly women bound to wheelchairs who sit in the lobby all day watching their younger neighbors do their crazy things. There's a busy-body concierge, and then there's De Niro, hero cop, and PS Hoffman, drag queen and singer. No love lost here. Straight-as-an-arrow cop and flaming-as-a-brandied-banana queer cuss one another out across the airshaft.
The plot begins to begin when some young punk manages to steal a bundle of dinero from Mr. Z, a scary mobster who looks a little like Carlos Santana. The punk manages to get away to his girlfriend's pad-she lives in the tenement. But 'tain't long before the busy-body bell clerk, firmly in the pocket of Mr. Z, rats the young thief out. Z's evil henchmen come in and kill the thief and the girlfriend. De Niro hears the scuffle and moves to interfere on behalf of the NYPD. But on his way up the stairs, he has a stroke.
De Niro lives, but falls into deep despondency over being a stroke victim. He drops out of sight. Meanwhile, the crime thread continues because our thief managed to hide the take before he was offed. Mr. Z's crew terrorizes the tenement, searching rooms and bullying residents in an attempt to recover what was stolen. Hoffman and his queer friends prepare for a drag queen contest. Hoffman has an abusive beau who beats him. Hoffman, friends of the murdered thief's squeeze goes to identify the body. Hoffman wears flashy subplots in abundance, like costume jewelry.
De Niro's doctor suggests physical therapy. She also suggests that singing lessons might help him regain some speech. Well, it isn't long before he goes to Hoffman, who is closer and cheaper than the other voice teacher his doc recommends. They have harsh words and both give up on the singing lessons several times before they finally arrive at enough peace to try. Hoffman, though not totally convincing as a drag fag, is enough of a drama queen to electrify his scenes. Ugly as his life is (and he plays one messed-up queer), it's also pretty engaging. Bobby D has less to do, talking close-minded bluntness out of one side of his mouth; but one has to appreciate how well he plays a stroke victim.
As the relationships within the tenement improve, the heat from the Z gang gets worse. They even kill toady-boy's mom's canary! At last, the case cracks wide open, and I won't tell you whodunnit because this is actually worth seeing for yourself.
Once again, it's not the greatest work on the part of the two main actors, but their interplay is rich. Furthermore, the supporting cast is very well selected. From the baddies to the toady to the queens to the romantic interests, everyone plays well. Perhaps it helps that everyone is more or less a broadly stereotyped character, but even still, I was impressed by the entire ensemble. The shrieky flamboyance of the transvestites does not infect the sultry earthiness of main romantic focus, or brighten the creepy greed of Mr. Z.
Coming to me without preconceptions, Flawless turned out to be
a pleasant surprise--in spite of its flaws.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.