By Rick Kisonak | May 13, 2004

In the directorial debut from C. Jay Cox, a fresh faced Mormon missionary played by Steve Sandvoss is dispatched to knock on doors in the not exactly promising neighborhoods of present day LA. In the course of time, he makes a fateful acquaintance and finds himself deeply and passionately smitten. Which lands him in serious hot water with disapproving church elders back home and forces him to choose between his old life and new love.

Cox is no stranger to Hollywood. He scripted the Reese Witherspoon hit “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Latter Days” may sound like just another bit of fish out of water formula. At least until you learn the person Sandvoss falls for is a promiscuous gay waiter with the ironic name of Christian.

That’s right, this is a romantic comedy in which boy meets boy. Wes Ramsey costars as a good looking but vacuous resident of the complex in which Sandvoss shares an apartment with three fellow missionaries. They get to know one another over visits to the communal laundry room where the two discover they share a love of movies but have almost nothing else in common. Ramsey’s a creature of the flesh who treats sex as casually as a handshake. As devoted to his church as he is, Sandvoss doesn’t have a problem with the idea of embarking on a gay romance, just with the idea of it being a meaningless one.

The film’s subplot involves the twentysomething denizens of a trendy restaurant called Lila’s. Ramsey’s character is one of a half dozen or so for whom the place is a touchstone. The rest are a combination of carefree gay men and young women hoping to leave waitressing behind at any moment for glamorous careers as actresses or singers. As secondary characters go, these tend toward the stock variety-though Cox does feed them dialogue with a sort of “Will and Grace” meets “Friends” snap to it in places.

One of the many pleasures awaiting viewers in Cox’s picture is a rare Jacqueline Bisset sighting. The actress turns in an appealingly regal performance in the role of the nightspot’s owner, a brassy, classy babe who drinks vintage wine like it’s going out of style and acts as loving mother bear to her collection of dreamers and misfits. “Your religion doesn’t approve of booze or homosexuals,” she offers Sandvoss at one point. “I wouldn’t want to live in a world without either.”

Mary Kay Place, on the other hand, is determined to do exactly that. “The Big
Chill” star is, well, chilling, in the role of the young Mormon’s mother, a spiritual and emotional trainwreck of a woman with little to offer her son when
he’s sent home in disgrace other than a ticket to a nearby treatment facility. The twist here is that the excommunicated Sandvoss doesn’t chuck it all for a life of easy ecstasy. He remains committed to his core values and worldview. It’s Ramsey’s boy toy who undergoes a transformation into a caring, thinking upgrade of himself. Separated by a thousand miles and prevented from communicating with each other by bigoted buttinskis, neither knows what’s become of the other. Ramsey’s heartbreak, stock taking and determination to see to it the relationship gets a second chance are as affecting as anything the genre has produced in recent memory.

Certainly gays will occupy most of the seats wherever Cox’s film plays. The personal struggles faced by its characters will no doubt resonate most strongly with them. My guess is that’ll prove true of the sex scenes too. Anyone capable of being entertained and moved by a smartly made romantic comedy, on the other hand, is likely to prove a convert. I have. Cox’s last effort made me laugh. This one made me a fan.

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