But that two very hot Hollywood leading men would be prepared to take on these roles, that a director as accomplished as Ang Lee would direct the movie, and that a studio as mainstream as Universal would produce it strikes me as a significant development. A few years back, it would have been unthinkable for bankable, heterosexual stars like Ledger and Gyllenhaal to have embraced such a venture. But they are of the generation that is mercifully over the bigotries of old Hollywood. Think of the greatest actor of his generation, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Three of his most powerful, accomplished, career-making performances - in "Boogie Nights," "Flawless," and "Capote," - are of gay men, each very different, each very human, each poignantly and brilliantly brought to life. In his case, taking on homosexual roles has helped Hoffman reach the career heights he now commands. Ledger and Gyllenhal take this to a new level, because, unlike Hoffman, they are handsome beyond measure, and have played macho heterosexuals for years.
Let's start at the top and work our way down this mountain of blather:
(1) Yes, Jake Gyllenhaal is a hot property; has been for a couple years.
Heath Ledger, on the other hand, missed his shot at the big time in 2001 and has been on a downward career spiral ever since. Ledger was a Bright Young Thing in 1999 when he appeared in the very fine teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You; in 2000 he got second billing in Mel Gibson's Revolutionary War movie The Patriot, which underperformed. Still, Hollywood executives thought Ledger might become a bankable leading man, so they gave him starring roles in a summer action movie (A Knight's Tale) and a bit of Oscar bait (The Four Feathers); both flopped. Since then, Ledger has struggled to get leading-man work and has dipped into such fare as Ned Kelly, The Order, Lords of Dogtown, and The Brothers Grimm. For Ledger, Brokeback Mountain isn't a risk--it's a last, desperate grasp at the brass ring before he disappears into the abyss with Josh Hartnett and Wes Bentley. Remember them?
And what to say of Ang Lee? Lee directed one of my Top 40 movies, Sense and Sensibility. He then directed the cold and clinical Ice Storm. Both films had critical acclaim, but no serious commercial performance. Since then, he's directed two colossal flops: Ride with the Devil and The Hulk, both of which lost money and stunk. He isn't exactly riding a tidal wave of success into this project.
(2) Are Gyllenhaal and Ledger "bankable"? Is Sullivan kidding? Does he even know what the word means? Here's Ledger's résumé:
|Release Date||Movie||Total Gross||Opening Weekend|
|6/3/05||The Brothers Grimm||$37,916,267||$15,092,079|
|8/26/05||Lords of Dogtown||$11,008,432||$5,623,373|
|9/20/02||The Four Feathers||$18,306,166||$6,857,879|
|5/11/01||A Knight's Tale||$56,569,702||$16,511,391|
|3/31/99||10 Things I Hate…||$38,178,166||$8,330,681|
Despite having ridden shotgun with Gibson and Matt Damon--two actors who really are bankable--Ledger has never opened a movie with any real success. In fact, a studio executive might reach the opposite conclusion: that Ledger is box office poison. Look at those grosses for Ned Kelly, The Four Feathers, and Lords of Dogtown. These pictures should have gone direct-to-video.
And how about that Jake Gyllenhaal? Here's his track record:
|Release Date||Movie||Total Gross||Opening Weekend|
|11/4/05||Jarhead||[still in release]||$28,751,000|
|5/28/04||The Day After Tomorrow||$186,740,799||$68,743,584|
|8/7/02||The Good Girl||$14,018,296||$151,642|
|6/28/02||Lovely and Amazing||$4,222,923||$91,910|
Take out The Day After Tomorrow--which was a Roland Emmerich disaster extravaganza headlined by Dennis Quaid and starring everyone from Sela Ward to Ian Holm--and Gyllenhaal has never topped $35 million in total gross and never opened a picture above $6 million--$6 million! If you go by the numbers, and not what you read in Us Weekly, you see the portrait of an untested art-house darling, not a "bankable" leading man. You see, in fact, the type of career that was built for roles like "gay cowboy." Brokeback Mountain isn't a risk for Gyllenhaal, it's his wheelhouse. (Yes, Jarhead opened nicely this past weekend, but the executives at Universal didn't know that when they cast Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain many moons ago.)
(3) Was Philip Seymour Hoffman's career made by his "powerful, accomplished, career-making performances" in Boogie Nights, Flawless, and Capote? After all, he's been gay on-screen three times--that must make a trend!
Except that anyone who has followed Hoffman's career knows that to the extent any select performances "made" it, it was made by his work in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Almost Famous, and--more than anything else--Love Liza. If anything, Flawless, Hoffman's turn as a drag queen opposite Robert De Niro, is regarded as one of his few missteps.
(Note also how Sullivan uses Capote as both cause and effect: Playing a gay man in Capote has somehow helped Hoffman reach the heights he now commands where he can get the lead in movies such as Capote.)
(4) Have Ledger and Gyllenhaal "played macho heterosexuals for years"? Hardly. Ledger has yet to play a character older than his early twenties and his career only stretches back to 1999. As for Gyllenhaal, this fall marked the first time he's appeared in a movie as a character older than high school age and if Sullivan were familiar with the Gyllenhaal oeuvre he would know that his prototypical character is that of the sensitive, thoughtful, semi-nerd.
If only Sullivan would leave the movie industry alone. He can probably keep his gig as the resident hep cat on The Chris Matthews Show without having to pretend to be a Hollywood trend spotter.