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'Flawless' presents tale of a relationship

From U-Wire
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
December 2, 1999
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MINNEAPOLIS - Joel Schumacher's latest film, "Flawless," takes RuPaul's words of wisdom: "You're born naked and everything you put on afterward is drag," as a launching pad to its narrative scene.

Robert De Niro plays Walt Koontz, a retired security guard with a heroic past who is forced, after suffering a stroke, to take therapeutic singing lessons from his flamboyant drag queen neighbor, Rusty Zimmerman (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Rusty's masquerade is the obvious cross-dressing of a stage performer, whereas the stoic Walt's occurs on a more spiritual and figurative plane. He is stripped bare of the ideological accouterments that sustained his homophobic standards of manliness and independence, and he is made to remodel his way of being in the world.

Hoffman's performance as Rusty Zimmerman is wonderfully layered - he is motherly and orphaned, brave and vulnerable. De Niro, on the other hand, inherits the burdensome legacy of myriad cinematic performances of characters with speech impediments, mental disabilities and other physiological failings. This will make some viewers cringe in anticipation of "best actor" nominations at the Oscars when some new and challenging disease is used to grandstand some deserving star's actorly acumen. Schumacher's script anticipates this audience response by allowing the captivating drag sister Cha-Cha to nickname De Niro's character "Mr. My Left Foot."

This is not to say that De Niro's performance as Walt isn't believable or impressive - it is. So are the cramped stage sets that comprise the dingy residential hotel, El Palacio, where most of the film's scenes take place.

Flawless is a surprising and sensitive film that works with the inevitable exposure of big city life in the claustrophobic quarters of the poor to build its drama into a believable tale.

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