Small-scale comedy drama set in a grubby New York apartment building. When grumpy - and ultra-conservative - retired security guard Walt Koontz suffers a stroke that leaves him with partial paralysis, he reluctantly agrees to let Rusty, the drag queen who lives above him, to teach him to sing as part of his speech therapy.
We've come to expect flashy - and often soulless - films from Joel Schumacher, from the dreadful Batman & Robin (1997) to the almost irredeemable 8mm (1999), so it comes as something of a shock to discover that he is the man behind this occasionally moving little film that - gasp! - doesn't even boast a money-making soundtrack.
Instead, he has delivered a small-scale drama that benefits from some superb casting, mainly in the form of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who gives a raw and touching performance as Rusty, the tough-on-the-outside drag queen who, of course, has a heart of pure mush. De Niro is slightly less effective as Walt, the ex-security guard who suffers a stroke and then enlists the help of Rusty (whom he naturally dislikes) to aid his recovery.
He's now perfected mildly-grouchy to a fine art and can make it nicely amusing, but his post-stroke twitches and slowness here seem a bit too jarringly 'Method' to be convincing. Of course, he isn't helped by the clichéd script from Schumacher, that presents characters as stereotypes and signposts plot developments. Do we think lovely Rusty will help Walt become a nicer, warmer, fuzzier and more accepting human being? Will the scuzzy character get his comeuppance in the end? Will the drag queens be nice to Walt even though he's a grumpy old git? Does Schumacher know the meaning of 'obvious'?
Schumacher's rather lumpen plotting aside, this all adds up to a slightly bizarre but heartfelt film, that may signal a more interesting and less glossy career path for the director. And if he continues to work with talents like Hoffman and De Niro, one hopes there will be even better movies from him in the future. Which will hopefully keep him too busy to be anywhere near another Batman.
Plot and script may be predictable, but thanks to Philip Seymour Hoffman and a smart supporting cast, the performances definitely aren't.