LGBT Movies: Parting Glances (1986)

Michael’s boyfriend is leaving the U.S. for work. His ex-boyfriend is living with HIV. We follow him for a day as he mentally prepares to lose them both. Parting Glances could have been a dirge but writer/director Bill Sherwood fills it with warmth and humor.  Richard Ganoung and John Bolger have thorny chemistry as the long-term couple fraying at the edges. Steve Buscemi gives a career launching turn as the snarky, defiant ex-boyfriend.

I’d accidentally shuffled the film into the same mental drawer as maudlin works like Philadelphia, And the Band Played On and It’s My Party. Works of historical importance that are difficult to revisit. Happily, I was mistaken. The film is fresh, funny and worth a watch in 2020.

You can stream the film here before or after reading my spoiler filled recap.

Act One: Packing Up

Robert (John Bolger) and Michael (Richard Ganoung) are having problems.

Scene One: Robert and Michael’s Manhattan Apartment
(ROBERT and MICHAEL are making love. MICHAEL’s not feeling it.)
MICHAEL (an editor): Have all the homophobes left the cinema? Good. Moving on.
ROBERT (a liaison for the W.H.O.): I’ll finish packing.
MICHAEL: You’re going to Kenya. You don’t need 20 sweaters.

Scene Two: Nick’s Apartment
(NICK is a rock singer with HIV. Played by a hot Steve Buscemi. MTV is airing his new video.)
MICHAEL: Have you eaten? I’ll make dinner.
NICK: Stop playing nursemaid.
(When MICHAEL leaves NICK starts to film his will.)
NICK: I’m leaving $10k to my dad and $50k to Michael. And a dildo to Robert.

Scene Three: Cab Ride
MICHAEL: Your closeted boss hates me.
ROBERT: He didn’t choose this transfer. I did. We need a break.  
MICHAEL: Why are you telling me this now? Jerk.

Act Two: Goodbye Party

Michael (Richard Ganoung) confides in his best friend (Kathy Kinney).

Scene Four: Friend’s Apartment
BEST FRIEND: SURPRISE! I’ve invited a squad of tertiary characters to bid Robert goodbye!
STRAIGHT GUY: I talk about IBM word processors. 1986, amirite?
COLLEGE BOY: You’ll be single soon. Take my number.
MICHAEL: No thanks. I’m in love with… someone else.  
RUDE ARTIST: I fetishize AIDS. What does impending doom feel like?
NICK: You tell me. (Nick pulls a knife on the artist. Then lets him go.)
ROBERT’s EX-GIRLFRIEND: I’m bored with my new boyfriend. All the hot guys are gay.
ROBERT: Relationships are work. You have to stick with them.
MICHAEL: Hypocrite.

Act Three. False Alarms.

Michael (Richard Ganoung) confesses to Nick (Steve Buscemi).

Scene Five: Park
(MICHAEL steals ROBERT’S keys.)
MICHAEL: You’re leaving because you don’t want to deal with me when Nick dies.
ROBERT: I leaving because you’re in love with Nick. You need to be with him this year.

Scene Six: Nick’s Apartment
NICK: God’s a jerk. Straight people are jerks. Gay guys are jerks. Lesbians are laughing at us from their ivory tower. (I’m paraphrasing here. The full monologue is great.)
(Nick breaks a dish. Michael joins in. They smash all the dishes.)
NICK: It’s not fair. You’re in love with someone else.
MICHAEL: I’ve only been in love once.
(Michael points at Nick. They embrace.)


NICK: Nah, the film could have ended here but we’ve got about 10 more minutes. Robert cancels his trip to Kenya. I give Michael a mean prank call saying (trigger warning) I’m going to commit suicide on Fire Island. Michael finds me and we have a cryptic conversation on the beach. 
Then it’s THE END.

Manhattan Boy

Steve Buscemi’s hair is amazing.

There was a woman who stood up and said…. “I have a brother who’s homosexual…. What really upset me about the film is you made it look so normal.”

Richard Ganoung

Parting Glances is the third film I’ve seen to feature the song Smalltown Boy. Jimmy Somerville’s falsetto vocals remain hypnotic. Orville Peck’s recent baritone cover merits a listen as well. The Manhattan sophisticates on display here have coped with their sexuality in a variety of ways. Michael partied in the 70’s but settled into a monogamous relationship in the 80’s. Robert’s boss married a woman but sees men on the side. The college boy has been out and dating men since he was 16. His parents were mortified but seem to have begrudgingly accepted him.

Writer and Director Bill Sherwood passed away three years after the film was made. The semi-autobiographical work preserves his memories and friends. Outfest restored the film in 2007. The cast reunited and gave a series of interviews. It’s tempting to quote them verbatim. Instead I’ll link to some highlights:

Have you seen Parting Glances? Were you living in a city when you watched or were you a smalltown boy? For more reviews of LGBT media click here.