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This is a funny and entertaining movie that I went looking for again to add to my collection. If your not afraid of the flamboyant stereotypes and have an open mind you're going to love this movie.
Actual the story of the movie is not the deepest. What made the movie funny for me was the problems Benson had pretending to be a gay man and the development of their "relationship" And really it has some nice gags.
Fans of O'Neal's manly physique will not be disappointed, but the coy jokes built on his character's awkwardness at being thrust into the gay scene are weak, puerile, and are not very funny. The murder mystery aspect of the plot is the best thing about the film but it is constantly undermined by the film's habit of switching back into comedy mode whenever the suspense starts the build. And then as if that isn't bad enough, they slot in some cute and thoughtful scenes just to show us that O'Neal's character really is a caring guy after all. Then, despite the fact we have already met his girlfriend, he is straight to bed with whatever woman happens to cross his path.
The general story is also quite sloppy. Characters are introduced to the audience, and then they disappear having fulfilled no greater function than to be the butt of some unfunny joke. Characters such as the effeminate motel owner, Benson's original girlfriend, and the caftan-wearing landlord are given big introductions and then disappear.
What is amazing is that this "snigger at the gays" comedy was produced in 1982! (Australian TV soap operas like 'Number 96', 'The Box', 'Prisoner' had been filled with positive gay and lesbian characters in the *preceding* decade.) It seems more like something from the sixties. Not even interesting as a historical artifact. Avoid.
WARNING: What follows is a big rambling digression from my "Partners" comments. (Updated by original poster on Dec. 30, 2008)
I had seen the movie "Ode To Billie Joe" with my gay parent and my straight sister when it first came out in 1976. We all had known gay people for many years. In those days, the idea of being 'gay' was still kept private and only spoken of in close circles. Times were evolving then, just as they are still evolving now.
In my experience back in those days, one's own "gayness" was not talked about openly unless they had a desire to tell their story on Television. In the early to mid 1970s a lot of different kinds of people wanted to be on TV or something like that. I do admire those early open pioneers.
Back in the day I remember that 'gayness' (whatever that means) was respected by those who matter. Nobody ever had to make an issue of it, just as I have never done.
Neither my gay parent nor I or anybody else cared to talk about our personal business, and it was good in a way and it still is.
I had always loved the Bobbie Gentry song that inspired the movie since it was released in 1968. I had to see this movie, of course.
I rather understood the idea of Billy Joe's situation and that of the other characters because the story was told from a 1950's rural Mississippi perspective. Later in my life, it was suggested that the end was the particularly offensive part because of a line that was spoken by one of the main characters, and I still agree with that observation. (Though, if the viewer takes into account the locale and time period of the story, the line is actually respectful of the person considering the place and time)
Over My 46 years I've seen a lot of movies with gay characters and the only one I ever respected for that effort is "Victor/Victoria" (1982).
I didn't care too much for "The Birdcage" (1996) in spite of the talented people that participated in the making of the movie. I despised Nathan Lane's character (though Lane later redeemed himself as a gay/?/ man in the cable series "Sex And The City"). To me, the only good thing about "The Birdcage" was Gene Hackman's stellar performance as the conservative U.S. Senator.
In 1973 a wise women said: "Everybody thinks and feels differently as the years go by, don't they"
John Martin, 46, Fort Worth, Texas
Screenwriter Veber had no fear of mining the gay lifestyle for laughs here, any more than he did in the classic La Cage Aux Folles 1 & 2. Yet blended into the film is Hurt's tormented Kerwin trying to fit into a straight world by denying his true self, and ending up miserably unhappy anyway. There's a poignancy to his character that gives Partners a seriousness amid all the over-the-top prancing and mincing. O'Neal also rescues Benson from the two dimension, by discovering -- despite his ease and success around the opposite sex -- an emotional depth and devotion to Kerwin that redeems him in the end.
All of which makes Partners worth watching again and again.
I recently wrote an article about a man I knew back in the 80s who had been a McCarthyite victim because he was gay and fit all the stereotypes. Hurt's character is the same, he operates quietly and unobtrusively no doubt seething inside over the stupid homophobic comments made in front of him. When McMillan picks him for the assignment he feigns surprise.
So the two go undercover in a gay area as a couple and start to mix and mingle. It's actually O'Neal who discovers there's a serial killer that the regular homicide cops missed. That's because he is a cop first and foremost as hard as he is trying to overcome his preconceived notions about gays.
O'Neal and Hurt are fine in the leads. O'Neal looks every bit the hunk he plays. Hurt has the more difficult role and carries it off beautifully.
I was very moved by the other reviewer who identified himself as coming from Bible Belt America and how he saw Partners much differently than LGBT people from the coasts. Sometimes the stereotypes might have been over the top in this and other films, but they validated his existence. I can truly relate to that because in the 60s when I was growing up I had even fewer entertainment role models than he probably had.
Some of the gags misfire and some of the stereotypes are over the top. But Partners is a film with some real relevancy.
Some people leaving reviews on this site says this film is NOT anti-gay. Oh really? Every single offensive gay stereotype is bought out and presented to the audience to laugh at it. Aside from Hurt ALL the gay men here are sex-obsessed, speak with lisps, are VERY fem or screaming queens. Then the film throws in a sequence where some police officers taunt the guys calling them every offensive name in the book. These officers are shown as being wrong--but that's one small part of a movie that has virtually nonstop homophobic jokes. That doesn't excuse it at all. To make matters worse the murder mystery investigation is very dull and totally uninteresting. By the end I didn't care who was murdering the guys. And even WORSE the movie ends with a homophobic joke at the expense of Hurt! The script is terrible and the direction uninspired. Hurt (understandably) looks miserable all the time. O'Neal manages to give out a good performance despite the material.
Why was this made? It came out in 1982 and it was offensive then and it's even worse today. Critics tore it apart, audiences ignored it and it quickly slipped into oblivion. I believe O'Neal said years later that this movie was a "mistake" and Hurt says he doesn't remember anything about it. That should tell you all you need to know. A sick homophobic piece of garbage. A must miss.
Ryan O'Neal made me feel very uncomfortable with the situation his character was in. As a straight cop he has to team up with a gay partner and live undercover in the gay community as a fellow gay person.
Watching the film now, it functions as an interesting time capsule in how gay culture was viewed in the early 1980s. It is also interesting to note that the film is a thinly disguised comedic take on the then-controversial Al Pacino film Cruising. Given that Cruising was not a hit and even now does not hold a particularly cherished place in the hearts of the most devoted Pacino fan, the logical question is why anyone felt that a lampoon of said film would be a good idea.
Deriders of the film and its stereotypes certainly have their point. The film is brimming over with caricatures of gay men - whether the flamboyantly effeminate or the leather crowd. The comedy is expected to arise from the discomfort experienced by O'Neal - who is depicted as a macho, misogynist homophobe - in being forced to interact with such people, especially living in such close proximity to partner Hurt. Yet for all of the foolish clichés, to say that there is not some dignity present here would be misleading. It pretty much goes without saying that O'Neal will be humanized by his partnership with Hurt and develop sympathy towards the gay community that he previously did not have. The story really has little surprises in regard to the evolution of the characters. It would also be misleading to imply that there are NO laughs. The film does contain a smattering of laughs - certainly not enough to make it a success, but enough to lift above failure status. There is also some sense of satisfaction in watching O'Neal's initially obnoxious chauvinist be put through the ringer. Yet even with that the film really could do with a healthy jolt of energy.
The mystery story is not well thought out and fairly irrelevant. The culprit - as well as those aiding in the plot - are not especially difficult to discern.
In the absence of a particularly interesting caper and only sporadic laughs, one can take some solace in the cast. O'Neal acquits himself well enough as the rugged straight guy suddenly at sea in a world he can barely fathom. He conveys his discomfort well without overdoing it. Plus there is the undeniable titillation factor of O'Neal - still physically in his prime - squeezed into foolish leather outfits and, in the film's most memorable moment, forced by circumstance to strip completely naked in front of a bossy woman and a gay guy. Hurt manages to craft a sympathetic and sometimes amusing character out of the scraps given him by the screenplay. However, since he is depicted as being closeted, not a member of the gay community and not a street cop, one must wonder why exactly the police superiors would have fastened in on him for such an assignment. Kenneth McMillan is amusing as the sardonic police chief.
While not as incredibly awful as some would have you believe, it really has nothing of worth to offer beyond its time capsule qualities. Watch if you must, but don't go in with hopes high.