Brandy and Alexander (1991)

Romantic comedy requires a delicate balance between the hopefully engaging interpersonal chemistry of its enamored leads and a frothy playfulness that’s lighter than air. Such recipe rarely mixes well with the requirements of hardcore humping which traditionally foregrounds fornication over the more elusive aspects of mutual attraction. Albeit a relative rarity, the genre has occasionally succeeded in combining courtship with carnality. The late Chuck Vincent, a past master of sophisticated silliness, set the bar with his 1979 classic Jack ‘n’ Jill but even he could not recapture the magic for its largely disappointing sequel five years later. His pristine porn output (as “Henry Paris“) limited to but a handful of superior endeavors, Radley Metzger tastefully pillaged Shaw’s Pygmalion with The Opening of Misty Beethoven and liberally adapted the pseudonymous “Penelope Ashe” (in actuality, the majority of Newsday‘s writing staff) bogus bestseller Naked Came the Stranger concerning the creative deceptions within a typically 1970’s wide open marriage. Jeff Fairbanks concocted one of the classiest couples films, then still a burgeoning trend, with his delightful Exposed about happily married former porn star John Leslie’s past catching up with him and, even though it keeps protagonists apart for much of the duration, the wonderful Wicked Sensations by the elusive “Ron Chrones” (in all probability real world DoP Ron Garcia who masterminded the wonderfully warped sexploitation classic The Toy Box) perfectly qualifies to close the gates on this subject.

Trust Paul Thomas, in his performing days often cast as some sort of Prince Charming (literally in the case of Fred Lincoln’s Cinderella spin Serena : An Adult Fairytale), to revive adult’s shortlived romcom infatuation.  Not as a director as many sources have wrongfully assumed without bothering to check the credits, but definitely leaving his indelible imprint as co-author along with Carl Esser, who wrote his insightful On Trial, intended as a two-parter but over-extended into a “quadrilogy“.  In addition, he would also put up the cash through his Cinnamon production company. He uncharacteristically delegated directorial duties to dependable Jack Remy, rightfully revered as a camera wiz if generally given short shrift as a filmmaker. A mere glance at his body of work, approaching the 100 movie mark since his (official) 1982 debut with the Kelly Nichols showcase The Mistress, and containing such unheralded gems as L’AmourGirls on Fire and Looking for Mr. Goodsex reveals this casual dismissal as far from fair. Suffice it to say, he hits all the right notes supplied by Brandy and Alexander‘s superb screenplay.

In a cute twist on the narrative structure of Ernst Lubitsch’s Shop Around the Corner, probably more familiar to present day audiences from its listless if lucrative Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan remake You’ve Got Mail, which has characters who despise or simply ignore each other find unlikely romance through another medium (be it mail, crossed phone lines, the Internet or something less obvious), Brandy’s actually already an overlooked typist at Alexander’s art gallery. She (the incredible Jeanna Fine) is a nice Jewish girl, prone to wearing tight-fitting micro skirts, who always seems to be having one of those days. He (the tragically deceased Chet Anuszek aka “Jon Dough“) proves a bit of a prig and a stickler for detail. Apparently, they couldn’t be more wrong for each other, so naturally… Enter Brandy’s aunt Nadia (“Dorthy de Molay” a/k/a Baltimore’s own Delores Delux, a former John Waters associate who played covered character parts in John Stagliano’s Wild Goose Chase and Very Dirty Dancing) who runs a laundry service and decides to play matchmaker by switching their fineries. A call to put things right has them hitting it off in more ways than one, resulting in a fierce Fine solo and a date to meet in person. Since they only agreed to wear something red and drink white wine, there’s bound to be another mix-up. He winds up with squeaky-voiced (it gets that way when she drinks…) K.C. Williams, best remembered for her surprisingly stellar turn in Remy’s Adventures of Mikki Finn, as Jeanna practically jumps bewildered all purpose stud Mickey Ray, who played a rare lead in PT’s Victim of Love, in the back alley behind the bar. Will Brandy and Alexander ever work through this string of misunderstandings and find true love ? Take a wild guess.

Although plot labors to keep them apart for long stretches, Fine and Dough make an engaging screen pair and their climactic coupling (oops, gave it away !) is well worth waiting for. Appearing during a softer stage of her career, on a hinge between the early days as a punkette (anyone recall the two-toned Mohawk ?) and her subsequent emergence as drag queen dominatrix, Jeanna proves every bit as accomplished an actress as she is a sexual performer, which is really saying something ! Just as appealing is Texas firebrand Britt Morgan as sultry Southern receptionist Grace, sneaking off into the back room for a heated quickie with very cute handyman Ernest Hemmingway aka Chris Parker, a supposedly Soviet stud for hire shown to best advantage in PT’s slushy No Time for Love. Prior to in-person follow-up, both Brandy and Alexander fantasize about their prospective partners. For him, this means a syrupy lurve scene with pneumatic “Alicyn Sterling” aka real life ballerina Carrie Bittner, a part she played in Jim Enright’s endearingly silly A Little Christmas Tail. She has a wilder imagination however and pictures him as tattooed rocker Sikki Nixx (Fine’s real life boyfriend at the time and titular star of Paul Norman’s Edward Penishands novelty features), their frenzied dalliance mirrored by stalwart Tom Byron and Heather Hart, the curves aplenty star of Michael Craig’s charmer Wishful Thinking.

As sadly befits a ’90s shot on 35mm film feature, production proves somewhat frugal in comparison to the quality of yore. Fortunately, Remy can still make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and softly lights each set-up to practically pristine perfection, belying the flick’s wisp of a budget and attendant corner-cutting. That’s the good news in this area. Michael Zen’s editing was clearly a rush job and the less said about the New Agey soundtrack, credited to one “Barry Boxx” (presumably one of Vivid’s cover-all noms de porn like “Buster Gonads” for passing personnel to hide behind), the better. Bearing in mind the widespread dry spell the industry was going through and cutting some slack for its subsequent diminished returns, this shapes up as one of the finest films of an admittedly poor period, a project where it somehow all came together and everyone involved can in fact be justifiably proud of.

Directed & photographed by Jack Remy. Written by Carl Esser & Paul Thomas. Produced by Thomas for Cinnamon Productions & Vivid Entertainment. Music by Barry Boxx. Edited by Michael Zen. Starring Jeanna Fine (Brandy), Jon Dough (Alexander), Britt Morgan (Grace), K.C. Williams (Alexander’s Blind Date), Mickey Ray (Brandy’s Rebound Date), Sikki Nixx (as Edward Penishands) (Rock Star), Tom Byron (Band Member), Alicyn Sterling (Alexander’s Fantasy Girl), Heather Hart (Groupie), Chris Parker (as Ernest Hemmingway) (Gallery Handyman) & Delores Delux (as Dorthy De Molay) (Aunt Nadia). Running time : 87 minutes.

Saucy Southern Belle Britt Morgan occasionally overshadows this Fine film’s shining star with the kind of spirited performance that had made her an instant fan favorite

By Dries Vermeulen

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