Finally, a movie about AIDS that dramatizes the democratic nature of the disease--specifically, a heterosexual who is homophobic to the core and dying of AIDS.
In NBC's "Roommates," Randy Quaid, as a scruffy ex-con who contacted AIDS from a blood transfusion, is the wise-cracking, hard-drinking half of an "odd couple" sharing an apartment in a complex run by an AIDS action committee as a home for people with the disease.
Quaid's roommate, a sudden intrusion, is played by Eric Stoltz as a dapper Ivy League-educated homosexual who leaves the East Coast comfort of a loving but uncomprehending family to gain some control over his final months.
Initially full of mutual disdain, the roommates regard one other with cultural snobbery and stereotypical intolerance. One reads "Moby Dick" and wears neckties, while the other smokes, drinks and watches sports on a blaring TV.
It's a match made in hell but one gradually, genuinely transformed by mutual needs that flowers into durable friendship.
Of course, you just know early on that compassion and acceptance will supplant ignorance and prejudice. But the way these characters come to be soul mates feels right, instead of overly contrived.
Robert Lenski's teleplay and Alan Metzger's direction avoid land mines of sentimentality with a narrative full of surprises (a hilarious pool game) and candid emotions.
Aside from its strong acting and technical polish, the production's thematic achievement is twofold: (1) it demolishes the myth that AIDS is a gay disease, and (2) it refreshingly punctures holes in the prejudices of both straights and gays (but mostly straights).
* "Roommates" airs at 9 tonight on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39).