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Film / Parting Glances

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Michael: What’s the video?
Nick: It’s my will.
Michael: Put it away...
Nick: I’m just showing you where it is.
Michael: What bullshit. You know France is working on this new-
Nick: -new drug, which we should get by the year two thousand. Maybe we should go to France.
Michael: Okay.

Parting Glances is a 1986 romantic comedy-drama film written and directed by Bill Sherwood, starring Richard Ganoung, John Bolger, Steve Buscemi, and Kathy Kinney.

Michael (Ganoung) and Robert (Bolger) are a 20-something gay couple living in New York City. While they are still in love after many years together, issues are starting to crop up as Robert is leaving for a two-year work assignment in Africa and Michael is staying behind. The film depicts the 24-hour period leading up to Robert’s departure, showing the couple attend a private dinner hosted by Robert’s boss and a going-away party hosted by their friend Joan (Kinney), as well as scenes of Michael caring for his friend and ex-boyfriend Nick (Buscemi, in his film debut), who has AIDS. Things are further complicated when Robert’s true motives for leaving are revealed.


The only film by Sherwood, who died from AIDS complications in 1990. Due to its realistic portrayal of urban gay life during the height of the AIDS crisis, as well as being one of the first films to address the pandemic, it is considered highly important in the history of gay cinema.

The film provides examples of:

  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Nick blithely tells Michael this is how he “exercises”.
  • All Gays are Promiscuous: Robert states this is the reason Nick got AIDS during an argument with Michael, and that Nick should have known better. Michael, understandably, doesn’t take the claim well. It’s however averted in an earlier scene when, while recording his video will, Nick leaves a message for his father saying he stopped cold once word of the virus got out, but was affected anyway due to the long gestation period.
    Nick: But even before I wasn’t some kind of gonzo kamikaze dick, so don’t go saying it was my own fault, ‘cause it wasn’t, all right? And even if you do, I’m gonna come back and haunt you, all right?
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  • Ambiguous Ending: The film ends with Michael and Nick on the beach: Nick tells Michael to point and spin around, and that they’ll travel to the place he ends up pointing to. Once done, Michael opens his eyes and realizes he’s pointing at Nick. Nick, seemingly unaware of the implication, declares that Europe (the direction Michael points to) is too froofy and that they should visit Robert in Africa instead, and then the credits roll. Whether Michael and Robert will stay together and whether Nick will survive is left unsaid.
  • Amicable Exes: Michael and Nick, although both still has feelings for the other.
  • The Beard: Betty is unknowingly this for Cecil.
  • Better as Friends: Michael and Nick.
    Michael: I’m even more whacked out than Nick. That’s why it never could’ve worked.
  • Betty and Veronica: Robert and Nick, respectively.
  • Bilingual Bonus: When Klaus gives Joan his very disturbing thoughts about how AIDS could take any of the men in the room at any time, he follows it up with the German word "liebestod," and then repeats it. The direct translation is "love death," though it could be translated as "death from love." Creepy of him to put it that way, but sadly accurate.
  • Boring Insult: Nick calls Robert “Bob the Bore” at one point.
  • Brick Joke: Nick has known Michael for then years and still can’t remember what state he’s from.
  • Camp Gay: Douglas. Averted by pretty much every other named character. Michael sometimes adopts a camp voice and mannerisms for a laugh when around Nick, though.
  • The Caretaker: Michael is this for Nick. Joan at one point says Nick claimed he wouldn’t eat if not for Michael; Michael is certain he only says so to make sure he stays around.
  • Cast Full of Gay: It is about a gay couple and their friends, after all.
  • Common Law Marriage: Michael and Robert have been together for approximately six years, and are considered to be basically married.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The dialogue at large is witty and droll; Nick in particular is made of snark. Michael has his moments too, especially when around Nick.
  • Dramatic Shattering: At one point, Michael and Nick dances around while smashing a bunch of plates in Nick’s kitchen.
  • Driven to Suicide: Nick calls Michael at the end of the film and implies this. He’s bluffing.
  • Eagleland: Peter views America as Type 1. Nick calls him a Republican in response.
  • Eccentric Artist: The married German artists, Klaus and Liselotte, Joan invited to the farewell party, which is made very clear once Klaus starts playing the piano while Liselotte undresses and dances through the crowd.
  • Fag Hag: Joan.
  • First Love: Michael and Nick for each other. It’s also just about stated they are each other’s only love.
  • Flashback/Imagine Spot: Michael has one of him and Nick messing with Douglas whilst wearing stereotypical Native American face-paint and feathers, before running down to the beach. It’s unlikely the flashback depicts exactly how it went down, but we’re told they did indeed do something to Douglas that makes him unwilling to let Nick back at his house.
  • Footsie Under the Table: Michael does this to Robert during the dinner with Cecil and Betty - and he aims high. Robert doesn’t mind at all.
  • Gallows Humor: Nick likes telling his friends which of his stuff they’ll inherit after he dies. His friends are less appreciative of it.
  • Glory Days: At Joan’s party, Nick reminisces about the 70s and early 80s to the younger Peter. Peter says he’s quite sick of hearing about “the good old days”, however.
  • Gossipy Hens: Robert and Sarah sneak up onto the roof during the party to reminisce and talk about their current relationships. Apparently, this is common for them.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Robert is clearly very jealous over Nick’s closeness to Michael.
  • Hallucinations: Nick has a recurring one of a deceased friend dressed as Mozart's Commendatore.
    • Dead Person Conversation: Commendatore advices him to hang on as long as he can because Heaven is boring, pick up baseball instead of opera since it’s cheaper, and that, if he ever goes on a trip, he should take something. Unfortunately, Commendatore fades away before specifying what that “something” is.
      • Commendatore's line is "...make sure to take..." Given the end of the movie, there's a strong implication that the "something" is actually a "someone" - namely, Michael.
  • If It Tastes Bad, It Must Be Good for You: Michael insists Nick eats healthily to help combat his condition. Nick would rather have a beer and a steak.
    Nick: This macro psychotic diet is bullshit. You know it, and I know it.
    Michael: (finishing a green-colored drink) Humor me.
    Nick: (takes a sip) Yeah, straight from the cat.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Peter is interested in Michael because the latter is capable of “resisting” him.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Peter says Michael won’t have to worry about getting “you know what” (aka AIDS) from him to Nick, who’s got the “what” in question. He later apologizes.
  • I Regret Nothing: Nick, who, despite everything, refuses to “repent”.
  • Irony: When Nick asks if the reason Robert hasn’t come to visit him is because he’s afraid he’ll catch AIDS Michael explains that Robert, who works for a health organization, simply don’t know how to deal with sick people. Nick is quick to point out the irony.
  • Jerkass: Klaus, who talks about how sad it is that Nick is dying before stating he’d like to stage an art piece that includes terminally ill people, because of how intense it would be. Joan is suitably disgusted.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Nick is amiable for the most part, but also isn’t a stranger to mocking, insulting, or even threatening others.
  • Keet: Peter during his and Nick’s conversation in the staircase. It might be due to him being drunk, however, since he is much calmer in every other scene.
  • Last Het Romance: Sarah was this for Robert.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: Nick tells Peter about how he and Michael met and how they partied until Michael almost flunked out of college while younger, ending with advising Peter to go out and do the same with someone his own age. Peter rejects the advice.
  • Love Confessor: Michael reveals to Joan that he’s always loved Nick more than Robert. She responds that she already knew, and that he should tell Nick about it.
  • Love Triangle: Type 7 between Michael, Robert, and Nick, with Michael as A.
  • Meal Ticket: Douglas repeatedly tries to woo different men during the party, implying he could be this for them.
  • Meaningful Echo: When Michael says Robert’s workplace’s efforts to help the diseased aren’t enough he starts repeating what Nick said in an earlier scene, before Robert cuts him off.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Michael is a freelance editor, but wants to write as well.
  • Motor Mouth: Nick sometimes is this, especially when he gets into a rant.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Nick’s conversation with Peter in the stairway has shades of this.
  • Not Afraid to Die: Nick has more or less accepted his fate and is not going to let it stand in the way of him going on tour.
  • Official Couple: Michael and Robert.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Robert and Sarah.
  • Porn with Plot: Douglas’ book that Michael is editing is, based on passing descriptions, most likely this. It is also very, very bad.
  • Pretty Boy: Peter, who calls himself “eminently irresistible”. Nick disagrees, calling him a “ditzball twinkie”.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Nick briefly, and comically, does this while ranting about how everybody except lesbians are jerks and how he “should’ve been a dyke instead”.
    Nick: God, I don’t know if you exist, but if you do, you’ve got me pissed!
  • The Rock Star: Nick. His introductory scene has him mention that he’s been glued to the TV for five hours, waiting for MTV to air his latest music video.
  • Sad Clown: Nick is energetic and snarky and acts flippant about his condition, but there’s an undercurrent of sorrow to his behavior.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Nick, who probably swears more than all of the other characters combined.
  • Straight Gay: The majority of the cast, but especially Robert.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Nick while on the phone with his lawyer.
    Nick: Marty, do you think you can talk a little bit louder so I can achieve my lifelong ambition of going totally deaf? Notice how quietly I’m speaking? I DON’T LIKE TO SHOUT!
  • Surprise Party: Robert knows about his going away party, but it doesn’t stop everyone from hiding in the dark and shouting “surprise” when he and Michael arrive.
  • That Satisfying "Crunch!": Michael and Nick as they smash plates in Nick’s kitchen while dancing.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Michael gives one to Robert at the end of the film, right before the latter is supposed to leave for Africa, where he accuses Robert of another reason for going.
    Michael: You're leaving because you don't want to be around when Nick dies. You don't want to deal with me going through that. You'll come walking back when it's all over. You better stay away, man, or you're going to come back to a fucking maniac. You think I can be mean now? I'm going to go after every politician, idiot doctor and smug born again asshole I can get my hands on!
  • Three-Way Sex: Betty recounts a story of how she had a threeway with two gay/bi men in college to Michael at one point.
  • Token Minority: Terry is the only named black person at Joan’s party.
  • Tragic AIDS Story: Averted. The AIDS crisis is an important backdrop and mentioned several times, but it isn’t the main or only conflict.
  • The Twink: Peter. After some coaxing, Nick admits that he was “quasi-twinkie” before getting sick.
  • Video Wills: Nick creates one in which he reveals his condition to his father and leaves a large sum of money for poor people with AIDS, as well as a hilariously huge dildo for Robert.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Michael wonders this about Betty and Cecil.
  • Why Are We Whispering?: Nick asks this verbatim when talking to his hallucination.
    Commendatore: Spookier that way!
  • Workaholic: Joan is implied to be one, although not necessarily by choice.