The Life, Loves Of 31-year-old Male Virgin

Posted: June 28, 1989

With credits that include Grease, The Blue Lagoon and Flight of the Navigator, Randal Kleiser has established himself as a director who believes that youth must be served - even if the cuisine is erratic. In making Getting It Right in a more mature milieu, Kleiser has set himself two considerable obstacles to achieving a movie that lives up to its title.

He has surmounted both with surprising ease and assurance. The first hurdle is the difficulty of fashioning a comic character study of a 31-year-old male virgin that has more compassion than cheap derision. And the second is creating a movie that recalls the exuberance and the free and easy rhythms of some of the best English films of the '60s. In a display of affection for those movies and some daring and resonant casting, Kleiser gives key roles to Lynn Redgrave (Georgy Girl), Shirley Anne Field (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning) and Nan Munro (Morgan).

In effect, Getting It Right is a '60s movie redefined for the '80s. It could be argued that the recent High Hopes, Mike Leigh's blistering broadside against Margaret Thatcher, is the last word for the way things are in today's London. But if Leigh is an incautious pessimist, Kleiser is an incorrigible romantic.

And so is Gavin Lamb (Jesse Birdsall), a West End hairdresser who is routinely struck dumb in the presence of women. Unlike his colleagues, Gavin is (a) straight and (b) a virgin. When the subject of women comes up, he says, somewhat defensively, "I just want to get it right. That's all." To the world, this high standard emerges as inhibition bordering on nerdishness. But beneath it lurks something purer - an optimism that reality continually renders cockeyed.

Gavin tends to the balding pates of ladies of a certain age in the stuffy shop presided over by Mr. Adrian (Peter Cook in one of the many supporting roles that makes Getting It Right a pleasure). He lives with his parents, listens to Mozart in his room and somehow survives his mother's cooking, which is lethal even by English standards.

The catalyst that helps him in his transformation from polyester prince to something genuinely charming is Joan (Redgrave), an unhappily married sophisticate. She provides his belated introduction to sex and, more significantly, opens his eyes to life's possibilities. These include the attentions of an anorexic aristocrat (Helena Bonham Carter) and the chance to be a Pygmalion figure to Jenny (Jane Horrocks), who also works under the iron rule of Mr. Adrian.

The '60s to '80s connection in Getting It Right goes far beyond the casting, however. Kleiser, working from a screenplay that Elizabeth Jane Howard adapted from her novel, poses a pointed question. Is there any room for the optimism and confidence that was part of English life 25 years ago, when London echoed to the new sound of the Beatles and looked forward to a decade full of the promise of liberation on many fronts?

Gavin persists in believing the answer is affirmative - despite all the evidence provided by the dashed hopes and relationships of his friends, both gay and straight. He believes that it is indeed possible to get it right.

Most of Britain's socially conscious filmmakers, directors such as Leigh and Stephen Frears, are rightly preoccupied with a right-wing government's boundless capacity for getting it wrong. Kleiser, who is American, says that he would love to do an update of what happened to the characters in 1966's Georgy Girl. Until he does, Getting It Right will serve as an engaging stopgap.

GETTING IT RIGHT * * *

Produced by Jonathan D. Krane and Randal Kleiser; directed by Randal Kleiser; written by Elizabeth Jane Howard; photography by Clive Tickner; music by Colin Towns; distributed by Management Company Entertainment Group Inc.

Running time: 1 hour, 42 mins.

Gavin Lamb - Jesse Birdsall

Minerva Munday - Helena Bonham Carter

Joan - Lynn Redgrave

Jenny - Jane Horrocks

Mr. Adrian - Peter Cook

Parent's guide: R (profanity, sex)

Showing at: Ritz Five Theater

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