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Film / Philadelphia

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Philadelphia is a 1993 drama film directed by Jonathan Demme, starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.

The film centers around a man named Andrew Beckett (Hanks), who is an up-and-coming lawyer until his employers figure out that he has AIDS. Then an important complaint is suddenly misplaced and his contract is terminated on that account. Suspecting that his disease was the true cause of his firing, Andrew approaches an old rival lawyer named Joe Miller (Washington) to plead his case in a lawsuit for discrimination. The two eventually team up to fight Andrew's firm while Joe struggles with his own homophobia and Andrew himself fights a losing battle against his disease.

Philadelphia is notable as one of the first Hollywood movies with a large-scale distribution to bring up the subject of AIDS. It won two Academy Awards: Tom Hanks' first for Best Actor in a Leading Role (he won another one year later for playing the title role in Forrest Gump), and Bruce Springsteen for Best Original Song ("Streets of Philadelphia"). It was notably Hanks' first successful dramatic role (following Nothing in Common and Every Time We Say Goodbye, both flops), resulting in a major career shift from comedies to drama and naming a trivia-trope.

Oh troper, are you gonna leave me tropin' away on the streets of Philadelphia?

  • Ambulance Chaser: Joe, as we see in his first courtroom encounter with Andrew.
  • Amoral Attorney: Andrew's former employers.
  • Based on a True Story: The film's story is very similar to two real-life ones. The first one was that of Geoffrey Bowers, who sued Baker McKenzie for wrongful dismissal after they fired him for getting AIDS, even though he had a satisfactory evaluation two months prior to getting sick; the case took six years to be solved, in favour of Bowers, who actually died two months into the trial, to the tune of $500,000 in compensatory damages and the back pay he would have earned had he remained employed. Clarence Cain was an attorney for Hyatt Legal Services who was also fired for having AIDS, sued Hyatt and won just before his death.
    • Bowers's family sued the writers and producers of the film since producer Scott Rudin had actually interviewed them, with promises of compensation, for a movie project which he claimed he had abandoned. The family claimed 54 scenes in the movie were very similar to Bowers's real life that they could have only been sourced for the interview. They ended up settling, and the settlement was not disclosed, although the makers of the film were forced to acknowledge the film was partly based on Bowers's story.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Andy is worried that the ensuring spotlight from the trial will hurt the lives of his siblings and their families, and asks them (along with their parents) for input before going ahead with the trial. They all tell him not to worry about it, and that they're proud of him.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Just count the babies at that funeral…
  • Bittersweet Ending: Andrew wins his case, but is unable to be present when it happens and dies soon after.
  • Bury Your Gays: Poor Andrew. However, his lover Miguel lives and, it is specifically noted, has not been infected with AIDS.
  • But Not Too Gay: It received (and continues to receive) a lot of criticism for this, to the point where Tom Hanks addressed the issue in The Celluloid Closet by explaining this was because of Executive Meddling, and that if they hadn't allowed for the edits the studio wanted, the film might never have gotten a release.
  • Camp Gay: Several of the guests during the party that Andrew and Miguel hold. Quentin Crisp, who is a real-life example of a Camp Gay, also makes an appearance, though without any dialogue. However, Andrew also shows shades of this in a scene where he puts on opera music and explains it for Joe. (The scene comes very late in the film and is more about opera as a passionate expression of universal emotion: it's about a woman devastated by tragedy, who feels redeemed by love and realizes that God is Love.)
  • Catchphrase: Joe: "Explain it to me like I'm a two/four/six-year old".
  • Character Development: Joe Miller came a long way, from wanting to get as far away from Andy as possible when he admits to having AIDS to straightening Andy's oxygen mask with a relaxed tenderness.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Andrew explains the first mark on his face as a bruise caused by a racquetball.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Even with Joe's views on homosexuals and already refusing to help Andy, after witnessing the way Andy was being treated in the library because of his AIDS symptoms, he takes up the case with him against his former bosses.
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: "What do you call a thousand lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean?" "A good start."
  • Fan Disservice: Andrew opening his shirt to show the jury his lesions.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Charles Wheeler pretends to be friendly and sympathetic as he's about to fire Andrew.
  • Firing Day: Andrew is asked to attend a meeting with his bosses. They outright tell him that he is incompetent and that he is fired.
  • Five-Token Band: Well, it was The '90s, after all.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Andrew's status as an AIDS patient ensures that he doesn't have long to live thanks to the lack of reliable and accessible antiviral medications at the timenote . Consequently, the film derives its drama from whether Andrew can win the case against his former employers in what little time he has left.
  • Gay Aesop: Likely the Trope Codifier in film.
  • Gay Bravado: Joe pulls this in a bar on a colleague who implied Joe is gay for participating in the case.
  • Good All Along: During the proceedings, the head juror is shown repeatedly nodding his head and smiling when the lawyers for the firm Andy is suing discuss how his dismissal was due to poor performance, not AIDS, or about how his condition had nothing to do with their decision. You think all along that he's clearly in their corner and Andy's case has no chance. When the jury sequesters, however, he immediately points out the flaws in their defense (using an excellent military analogy) and makes the rest of the jury see how all their arguments against Andy is basically smooth-sounding bullshit. If you watch the movie again after that, it's plain he sees through their crap from the get-go and is amused at how hard they're trying to weasel out of it.
  • Good Victims, Bad Victims: Invoked. When Andrew is suing his former firm for AIDS discrimination and brings up a woman working at the firm who also had AIDS, Andrew's former co-workers point out that she had contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. They make it clear that they reserve their sympathy for those who contracted the disease "through no fault of their own."
    • That woman herself defies this, though, when testifying about how Walter Kenton would have recognized Andy's AIDS scabs, stating that she just considers both herself and Andy to just be victims trying to survive.
  • Happier Home Movie: Andy's family reminisce with a few clips after he gets fired. Also the final scene.
  • The Hero Dies: Andrew himself at the end.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: A group of them, based on the infamous real-life Westboro Baptist Church, can be seen protesting on the courthouse steps during Andy's trial. WBC leader and famed asshole Fred Phelps would later call this movie his favorite comedy.
  • Hypocrite: Many of the old men at Andy's firm are okay with doing stuff like skinny-dipping together in their gentleman's club pool, but the moment their golden-boy junior lawyer admits he's gay they treat him like a subhuman and fire him on trumped-up immorality incompetence charges.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Andrew can be seen as this.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Andy is a graduate of Penn, and so is the only student that we run into.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Joe Miller is shown to be homophobic and believes in some of the stereotypes regarding gays (i.e. the conversation with his wife). He even initially disagreed to help Andy because of this prejudice. However, Miller does agree to help Andy because he witnessed Andy going through discrimination, and he begins to see the error of his ways during and after the trial.
  • Love Redeems: The theme of Maria Callas' aria ("La Mamma Morta" from Giordano's Andrea Chenier). Joe takes it to heart.
  • Magical Queer: The main character of the film is arguably Joe, as he is the one to go through character development. Andrew opens up his world (and the viewer's) by being endlessly patient and humble with both his disease and any prejudice surrounding it and his sexuality. He shares his wisdom and his loving family and social circle, and any lingering detractors (both in and out of story) is dealt the coup de grace when he dies peacefully in the end.
  • Manly Tears: As Andrew translates the words of Maria Callas' aria, he is openly weeping, and you can just barely see tears in Joe's eyes.
  • Meaningful Name: As is lampshaded in the film, Philadelphia is from the Greek for "City of Brotherly Love". The plot centers around a man who is ostracized and fired for being gay.
  • Mythology Gag: A meta-example in multiple ways: the film features a cover of "Heaven" by Talking Heads, performed by American Dark Wave singer Q Lazzarus. Philadelphia director Jonathan Demme had not only previously featured Q Lazzarus' "Goodbye Horses" in both Married to the Mob and The Silence of the Lambs, but had also directed the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which features the band performing "Heaven".
  • Nice Guy: Andy is this. Even with the (initial) prejudice he received from Miller, Andy still remains patient and respectful.
  • Noble Bigot: Joe Miller is personally repulsed by homosexuals, but he believes that a gay man should have the same protection under the law as any other person.
  • Obligatory Joke: It's a movie centering on lawyers, so at least one Evil Lawyer Joke is expected.
  • Phrase Catcher: Joe Miller, "the TV guy."
  • Pun: The intro shows a store named "Condom Nation". At a costume party, Joe wears a suit covered in pages torn from a law book. Or, as he describes it: A Law Suit.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The lawyers representing Andrew's former employers. Belinda hates the fact that she has to hit Andrew below the belt with attacks on his personal life and character, but it's her job.
    Belinda Conine: (as a quiet aside) I hate this case.
  • Satellite Character: Arguably Andrew's entire family.
  • Shout-Out: Joe's newborn daughter is named Clarisse. Jonathan Demme's previous film was Silence of the Lambs.
  • Slut-Shaming: At one point in the film, the defense begins focusing on Andrew frequently going to gay bars and other gay-focused establishments and even having had anonymous sex with another man at a pornographic club while still living with Miguel.
  • Straight Gay: Andy and Miguel act more like best friends than lovers. The student who tries to proposition Joe in the drug store is also an example.
    • Arguably, this plays into the plot, as Andy exhibited no obvious or stereotypical signs of being gay to his bosses, so for the longest time, they never suspected a thing.
  • Title Drop: Just about inevitable, given the setting.
  • Token Good Teammate: Bob Seidman is the only senior man at the firm to demonstrate a conscience, admitting on the stand that he suspected Andy was sick. He's also the only one seen at Andy's funeral at the end.
  • Tragic AIDS Story: Andrew Beckett develops AIDS symptoms around the beginning of the film, is fired from his job once word gets out, and dies of it by the end. However, his lover Miguel lives and, it is specifically noted, has not been infected with AIDS. In addition, Beckett won his case against his former law partners for firing him on the basis of his suspected illness and sexuality.
  • Troubled Sympathetic Bigot: Joe is himself quite homophobic at the outset. Getting to know Andrew over the course of the trial changes this.
  • Unconventional Courtroom Tactics:
    • Joe has a couple of unconventional tactics in his toolbox, such as questioning the defendants' sexual orientation.
    • Discussed by Joe in the beginning of the trial, when he tells the jury: "Forget everything you've seen on television and in the movies. There's not going to be any last-minute surprise witnesses, nobody is going to break down on the stand with a tearful confession."
  • The Unreveal: It is never definitively established if somebody did deliberately hide the file to sabotage Andrew, or if it was a normal mix-up that happened at the right time to give the partners the excuse they needed.
  • Wham Shot: Andrew's sudden collapse in the middle of the trial. Also, Andrew showing the court the lesions on his chest at the film's climax.