One of the unexpected delights at the 1998 Sundance film festival was Bill Condon's Gods and Monsters, a strange and lovely combination of cinematic nostalgia and offbeat love story. It's based on the last years of James Whale, a British director working in Hollywood who was responsible for two of the greatest commercial movies of the 1930s— Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein—and opens some 20 years after these triumphs. Whale, still vigorous but without studio work, finds himself enormously attracted to his new gardener. Ian McKellen, who looks as though he's having loads of fun with the part, plays Whale in a deliciously campy and fey way. The smoldering Brendan Fraser plays the macho gardener as struggling inarticulately to come to grips with a kind of man and a kind of flirting he's never encountered before. The scenes in which Whale's sophisticated, worldly intellect envelopes the gardener are a triumph of nuance and playfulness, while an opening scene in which he tries to seduce a graduate student is played strictly for laughs. Even better are clips from Whale's films, whose monstrous, deeply wounded characters seem like metaphors for Whale.
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