amusing people

New York Is the Natural Habitat of the Gay Sophisticate

My Best Friend’s Wedding, 1997. Photo: Ronald Grant Archive/Alamy Stock Photo

In 1933’s Only Yesterday, a suave decorator in evening clothes, played by Franklin Pangborn, is enjoying a painting alongside his young lover while all around them New York City is melting down over the stock-market crash. “What market?” asks the boyfriend. “Oh, their silly stock market,” Pangborn replies. Then: “Say, it’s five o’clock, cocktail time at the Emersons’. Shall we go over?” All around them, people prepare to jump from buildings. “You’ll meet a lot of amusing people there — all the people that you hear about and some that you haven’t.”

It’s been a long, slow slide from these heights of the urbane New York City homosexual: from Farley Granger and John Dall’s wonderful confirmed-bachelor pad in Rope (the gay apartment of my dreams!), to Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada, to, I guess, Stanford Blatch in whatever roach box he lived in. But each portrayal celebrates the true wonder of being a homosexual gentleman. It’s terrific to have an aesthetic obsession (fashion, décor, murder); it’s wonderful to inhabit your own private New York while heterosexuals live overlapping but less interesting existences.

The king, if you will, of them all is the gay best friend played by Rupert Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding. The underappreciated 1997 rom-com, often criticized for using a gay man as a prop or plot device, has revealed itself in time to be more about how heterosexual brainwashing distracts us from three great tastes: true friendship, fabulous gay men, and having an amazing life in New York City, the best place in America.

Julia Roberts — at 27, somehow a taste-making food critic in New York — suddenly realizes she’s in love with her old pal (Dermot Mulroney, here at the second of his three, to date, pinnacles of hotness), a sportswriter, and so pursues him to his wedding weekend (in Chicago!) to destroy his planned nuptials with a very small, exuberant, and extremely young Cameron Diaz.

Watching the movie again in 2021 makes not just heterosexuality but Chicago (or its stand-in?) look tepid. “What a hideous room!” Everett exclaims upon visiting the Drake, Chicago’s best-known hotel. The most romantic backdrop the film could find: the foul Chicago River, an artificially reversed sewage pit and introducer of invasive aquatic species to the Great Lakes.

Meanwhile, we are treated to short glimpses of our gay hero back in New York. There’s Everett’s significant bone structure at a crowded bookstore listening to some overwritten erotic literature. Here he is in his chic dining room in a clearly sprawling apartment: a little framed photograph of him with another man, a table full of white people dressed in various shades of taupe, lilacs on the table, only-now-trendy flat-bottomed wineglasses. He flies to Chicago twice in a weekend to help, packing eveningwear. Roberts’s obsession with getting the man evaporates, Everett mocks her temporary madness, and with his honest friendship, she is free, ready to go back to making chefs cry in Manhattan. Whose existence would you crave more: his or hers? The gay best friend doesn’t want his life recorded in some absurd plot. Do you think Elijah from Girls, or Oliver from Crazy Rich Asians, or Robin from Batman & Robin needs your approval? He already knows who he is, what he wants, and where to buy it.

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New York Is the Natural Habitat of the Gay Sophisticate