Billy Collier (Sean P. Hayes) is an aspiring photographer in Los Angeles who has had little artistic success and much romantic frustration. He comes up with the idea of recreating iconic screen kisses from Hollywood movies (such as Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr's in From Here to Eternity) using drag queens in the female roles. While out for coffee with his roommate Georgiana (Meredith Scott Lynn), he meets Gabriel (Brad Rowe), the server. That night at a party, Billy's friend Perry (Richard Ganoung) agrees to finance Billy's Screen Kiss project and Billy serendipitously runs into Gabriel. Billy recruits him to model and the two develop a friendship (although Gabriel says that he has a girlfriend in San Francisco).
Billy quickly becomes infatuated with Gabriel, but cannot figure out if Gabriel is really straight; Gabriel does little to help, continually sending ambiguous signals. At Perry's invitation, the two attend an exhibit by photographer Rex Webster, who tries to poach Gabriel as a model (and potential trick). Webster offers to take Gabriel to Catalina Island for an underwear ad shoot, sparking Billy's jealousy. Back at Gabriel's place, Billy and Gabriel seem to be getting closer but their rapport is interrupted by a phone call from Gabriel's girlfriend Natalie.
Billy shoots his first setup with Gabriel, the Lancaster-Kerr kiss. Following the shoot, Gabriel tells Billy that his relationship with Natalie is over. Billy mentions the Kinsey scale, on which Billy describes himself as a "perfect six," but Gabriel admits he does not know where on the scale he falls. Back at Billy's apartment, they continue to talk and drink and Gabriel asks if he can spend the night on the couch. Billy suggests that Gabriel sleep in his bed (ostensibly because of Gabriel's height), to which Gabriel eventually agrees. When the two are in bed, Billy makes tentative overtures, to which Gabriel seems to respond initially; however, Gabriel suddenly pulls away, after which Billy apologizes and gets up to sleep on the couch.
Gabriel gets the underwear modeling job and goes to Catalina. Billy follows after him to Catalina with Georgiana, who, on the rebound from her boyfriend, Andrew (Christopher Bradley), hooks up with drug-addled island resident "Gundy" (Carmine D. Giovinazzo). Billy crashes Rex Webster's (Paul Bartel) underwear shoot looking for Gabriel, but does not find him.
Billy eventually tracks Gabriel down at Rex's party later that night and the two talk on the beach. Billy relates to Gabriel how confused he was when he came out, saying, "I swore to myself that if I could ever be there for somebody, I would, so that that person wouldn't have to go through all the shit I went through. What I'm trying to say is, if you're having problems figuring out where you stand, even if you're not sure of what you're supposed to want-" Abruptly, however, before Billy can finish, one of Gabriel's fellow male models walks up to them. Billy instantly realizes that the two of them are in some kind of relationship with each other and Gabriel tells Billy straightforwardly, "Billy, I'm pretty sure what I'm supposed to want." Gabriel tries to soften the blow, but Billy rebuffs him. Billy feels hurt and humiliated and even wonders if Gabriel used him to get his modeling career off the ground. Later, Perry tries to console Billy, telling him that a few years earlier Perry had similarly fallen for someone who did not return his affections; Perry confesses that that man was Billy. The next morning, Georgiana has ditched Gundy. Billy and Georgiana then head back home.
The movie ends with the opening of Billy's "Hollywood Screen Kiss" series exhibition in Los Angeles, which includes his photos of Gabriel. The exhibit appears to be very successful and Billy receives many congratulations from various visitors. Perry shows Billy a magazine with an underwear ad featuring Gabriel and suggests that Billy give him a call. Billy demurs, saying he needs some time away. Toward the end of the night, after his friends have gone, Billy meets a handsome young man named Joshua (Robbie Cain) who enthusiastically admires Billy's photographic work. It is suggested that along with his newfound artistic success, Billy may at last find romantic fulfillment as well.
The film is punctuated with Billy's fantasy sequences of himself and Gabriel in pastiches of romantic film scenes, including the aforementioned From Here to Eternity and the films of Fred Astaire. Billy carries a Polaroid camera with him everywhere, and his reminiscences are illustrated with Polaroid photographs. The film in fact opens with such a monologue, with Billy relying on a series of Polaroids while relating how he grew up gay "in a small town in Indiana, where there's plenty of corn, fast cars, and straights. Lots and lots of straights. I mean, a lot." Billy's opening narrative demonstrates his awareness that he is in a film and breaking the fourth wall.
Several scenes in the movie are backed up by classic songs of bygone times sung by notable and lesser known divas; these are lip-synced by more or less the same troupe of drag queens, a running gag throughout the film.Sean P. Hayes as Billy Collier
Brad Rowe as Gabriel
Richard Ganoung (actor) as Perry
Meredith Scott Lynn as Georgiana
Matthew Ashford as Whitey
Armando Valdes-Kennedy as Fernando
Paul Bartel as Rex Webster
Holly Woodlawn as Holly
Christopher Bradley as Andrew
Robbie Cain as Joshua
Carmine D. Giovinazzo as Gundy
Les Borsay as Les
Jason-Shane Scott as Brad
Tommy O'Haver Director
Mark Mervis Cinematographer
Marcus Hu Associate Producer
David Mosley Producer
Meredith Scott Lynn Co-Producer
Jeff Bettancourt Editor
Rita M. Johnson Associate Music Supervisor
Robin Urdang Music Supervisor
Deauville Film Festival Grand Special Prize (nominated)
Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize - Dramatic (nominated)
Verzaubert - International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival Rosebud Award for Best Film (won)
Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss was released on Region 1 DVD on December 22, 1998.
The soundtrack was released on compact disc on August 11, 1998. The track listing is as follows:
- "Do What You Wanna" - Ramsey Lewis
- "Love Me or Leave Me" - Nina Simone
- "The Harem of Guadaloupe/Mystic Tango"*
- "Happy Heart" - Petula Clark
- "The Love Slave of Catalina"* - Tonya Kelly
- "This Is My Song" - Petula Clark
- "Theme for Rex Webster"* - Tonya Kelly
- "Moon over Quito"*
- "Cuban Love Song" - Xavier Cugat
- "Gabriel's Room"*
- "Happy Heart" (Junior Vasquez remix) - Petula Clark
- "She Calls Herself Georgiana" - Carmine D. Giovinazzo (hidden track)
*original score written by Alan Ari Lazar