By John Polly
Carson Kressley can breathe easily. Fortunately for him and his Queer Eye pals, the world isn’t overrun with great-looking, sharply dressed, socially adept, charming-as-hell straight guys who are fearless in social scenarios and who don’t need coaching on how to charm a woman. In short, there aren’t too many guys out there like Alfie, as played by the dashing and delightfully engaging Jude Law in the brand new, eponymously titled film. In fact, Alfie’s protagonist, Alfie Elkins, may just be the world’s first “metrosexual,” as the character played by Law is based on an Alfie played on-screen by Michael Caine nearly four decades ago. Back then, Alfie was a roguish, stylish lothario who plundered through a succession of women (against the backdrop of 1966 Swinging London), only to end up alone and empty, and scarred by film’s end. This time around, the still-English Alfie lives in New York and while his roguish charms remain, these days his female counterparts give as good as they get, and Alfie’s self-indulgent qualities now read as more of a diligent attention to detail. (Hey, in today’s culture you can’t pay too much attention to what you’re putting out there, right?) So, in short, now is a perfect time for a return visit from the charming, womanizing ways of Alfie. His rapacious sexual appetite, fashionable flair and fear of commitment fit right in our post Sex and the City/Queer As Folk/The Fabulous Life of…/let’s-all-get-drunk-and-jump-in-the-hot-tub Real World culture.
Even so, that doesn’t mean that Jude Law wasn’t wary when presented with the offer to star in a remake of “Alfie.” “I’ve always had a problem with remaking films,” said Law frankly. “Especially films that are classic. But [director] Charles Shyer approached me with this incredibly refreshing and original spin on something that was already a classic. He presented it like a piece of theatre, like a great character which can be redone. Alfie Elkins is a man who has a particular way of living, a particular creed and approach to life. It’s one that was incredibly relevant in the 60s when it first played and surprisingly, in a way, still is very relevant todayÑmore so perhaps because the women in his life obviously wouldn’t behave or respond in the same way now as they did back then.”
So now we get Jude Law as Alfie, a deliciously handsome and raffish aspiring urban sophisticate just past 30 who has no trouble skating through life on his charm and occupying himself with his lady-friends, but who might be on the verge of beginning to wonder (as Burt Bacharach famously wrote for the first movie’s theme song): “What’s it all about?”
This starring role seems a perfect fit for the intoxicatingly handsome LawÑwho’s worked his affably attractive wiles as the golden boy Dickie Greenleaf in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” and even as the otherworldly, animatronic Gigolo Joe in Steven Speilberg’s “A.I.” Still, for Law the role was something of a departure. “For me, the last ten years was spent stretching my muscles as an actor and trying out character roles. It seemed that I’d suddenly got myself into a place where the only part I hadn’t played was a sort of lothario, a sort of woman’s manÑor man’s man. So a role like this suddenly appealed to me as a challenge.”
To take it further, with Alfie came the task of presenting a character who has to convince us that he is just the sort to get by on his charms. “That’s hard to play,” explains Law. “If you read on a script that someone is charming and that he’s using his charm in a scene, it’s hard to do… The best thing to do is not play the charm too much, because suddenly you can seem to be slightly seedy. And part of it leaves you relying on a smileÑthat kind of stuff, like the flick of a handÑthat can be hard to pull off. Charles was incredibly encouraging in just saying, ‘No, you’ve got it. Use it more!’ while to me it would just feel incredibly broad or obvious. But in Alfie’s world, and in the world in which he’s trying to score with these women, it works very well. But it’s a challenge.”
In the film, Alfie’s charms are easily understood. Granted, Law is terribly appealing. And the film’s device, which has him addressing the cameraÑmaking the audience his beloved confidanteÑworks well to draw you in, and fortunately avoids the trap of feeling overly cutesy. It’s more like you’re being guided through Alfie’s world by a very generous host. [You know how you feel when that handsome, dashing straight guy in the office pays attention to you? That’s kind of how it feels here.]
Of course, this vantage point allows us to see through Alfie’s facade. “Alfie shares his truth with you,” says Law. “And that fact that you hear them, and then you see how he conducts his life also creates this slight kind of tragedy. He’s sort of blind in a way, to what he’s doing to himself.” And you’ll relate… If you’re a gay man who’s ever chased the easily accessible party life, while shying away from issues of commitment or self-examination, you’ll very much relate.
Meanwhile, it’s also easy to relate to the stylish flair that Alfie exudes as well. No one’s looked quite as fetching in a dapper suit on a Vespa on-screen in decades. Falling somewhere between Marcello Mastroaonni, Steve McQueen and the boys from Interpol, Law’s Alfie sports a dapper, jaunty flair with enough sexual charisma to make it all believable. He’s a limo driver by trade, but he’s also a dandyÑand one with cahones. “He’s got a zest for his lifestyle, for what he wears, as he knows that what you wear is very important to how you affect people, women in particular,” offers Law. “But I didn’t want him to look like a guy who could afford anything. Let’s not forget that he has very little money, and a limited wardrobe. It’s how he uses it that makes it more interesting. So I made sure that the suits we got were all a size too small, to give it that particular mod-ish look. It’s sort of an endearing quality of his.” And yesÑhe looks great.
But don’t just take our word for it. Stunners Jane Krakowski, Marisa Tomei, Nia Long, newcomer Sienna Miller and Oscar winner Susan Sarandon all fall under Alfie’s spell (and vice versa). No doubt part of Alfie’s appeal for homo audiences will be getting to see this cast of fierce femmes share screen time (and sack time) with Law. And while the sex couldn’t be more hetero, given the different types of relationships that Alfie veers into and runs away from, there are plenty of similarities that any gay man who’s been around the block will relate to, as Alfie juggles the married one, the needy one, the wild young thing, the sexy older benefactor, and even his best friend’s lover. Alfie’s trials with his paramours illustrate that straight or gay, relationships aren’t that different. (In fact, when things go south for Law and Sarandon, there’s not a gay man in America who won’t appreciate the reason.) And sure, there are more than a few sex scenes, “It seemed like every other day it was like, ‘OK, shirt off! Who’s next?” laughs Law.
So, what is it all about, this Alfie? “I think at its heart, this film is a morality tale,” offers Law. “It’s an investigation and analysis of relationships. And there’s something revealing and eye-opening in the film. There are deceits and manipulations and heartbreaks. And there’s humor that will also make it infectious and fun. It’s quite an appealing journey into a personality.”
See, CarsonÑeven metrosexuals get the blues.
Alfie (Paramount Pictures) is now playing in theaters nationwide.