Longtime Companion chronicles the first years of the AIDS epidemic as seen through its impact on several gay men and the straight sister of one of them. The film is split into several sections identified by dates.
Willy (Campbell Scott) a personal trainer, and his friend John (Dermot Mulroney) are spending time with affluent gay couple David (Bruce Davison) and Sean (Mark Lamos) at their beach house on Fire Island for the 4th of July. Sean is a screenwriter for the popular daytime soap opera Other People and David comes from a blue blood background and has a large trust fund. Back in the city, Howard (Patrick Cassidy) is preparing to audition for Sean's soap. His boyfriend is Paul (John Dossett) a business executive and their next-door neighbor is Lisa (Mary-Louise Parker), an antiques dealer, whose brother Fuzzy (Stephen Caffrey) is a lawyer who represents Howard.
That morning, The New York Times publishes its first article about the rise of a new "gay cancer". The news spreads as friends call each other. Some are immediately concerned, others dismissive. Willy meets Fuzzy at a tea dance later in the afternoon and they begin a relationship. Howard lands the role.
John is the first among the group to be diagnosed with the new disease, contracting pneumonia. Howard is given script pages in which his character is slated to become the first openly gay character on daytime television. He is very concerned about typecasting, fearing that by playing gay he will not be offered other sorts of parts. Willy and Fuzzy move in together.
John dies shortly after his admission to the hospital.
Willy, Fuzzy, Lisa, David, and Sean gather back on Fire Island with friends Michael and Bob to watch Howard's character come out on the soap opera. The group also discuss a sick neighbor who has become a pariah on the island. That evening, Sean and David argue over Sean's fears that he might be getting sick.
Paul is hospitalized with toxoplasmosis. Sean is also hospitalized. Willy visits Sean and is so terrified of becoming infected that he dons a surgical mask and protective gown and, when Sean kisses him on the neck, excuses himself to the bathroom to scrub the spot. Michael (Michael Schoeffling) is also visiting Sean, bringing with him homeopathic preparations and a book by Louise Hay. Howard visits Paul and breaks down sobbing. Paul tries to reassure and comfort him.
Sean has deteriorated to the point of dementia. David is helping with his writing and deceiving the studio into thinking that Sean is still able to work. Fuzzy tries to get Howard a movie role but the producer refuses to cast him because of the rumor that he has AIDS. The same rumor got him fired from his role on Other People. Paul is back in the hospital following a seizure. David takes Sean for a walk but has to take him home when Sean urinates in a fountain at a park in front of a woman with her two young children. That night Willy catches Fuzzy checking himself for swollen glands and they talk about their fear of dying. "What do you think happens when we die?" Fuzzy asks. "We get to have sex again" is Willy's reply.
Sean has deteriorated to the point of near-catatonia and is in constant pain. He has to be strapped into his bed and has lost control of his bowels and bladder and has to wear adult diapers as a result. After sending Sean's nurse on an errand, David sits with Sean and tells him that it is all right to let go, to stop fighting to stay alive. Sean dies. Willy and Lisa come by to help David and they pick out a suit for Sean to wear to be cremated. Fuzzy calls Gay Men's Health Crisis to find a funeral home. In a rare moment of levity, Lisa and Willy stumble across a slinky red dress in Sean's closet and consider giving it to the undertaker. "What could they say", asks Willy, "if we said we knew him and we knew that's the way he wanted to be remembered?" Ultimately they decide against it, since "it needs a hat. A big Bea Lillie thing!"
The four go to a Chinese restaurant to write Sean's obituary and include David as his "longtime companion".
David has died in his sleep and this is the day of his memorial service. Bob (Brian Cousins) and Willy eulogize him. At the reception following the service, the friends recall a time when David tried on his sister's wedding dress, accidentally tripped, and fell down the stairs, still wearing the dress.
Fuzzy and Lisa are volunteering answering phones at GMHC. Willy is a "buddy" to a GMHC client, Alberto (Michael Carmine).
Howard has been diagnosed as being HIV positive. Although it is not mentioned, the presumption is that Paul has died. Howard uses his remaining fame as a former soap opera star to raise money for AIDS causes by hosting a benefit which includes a performance by Finger Lakes Trio of the Village People song "YMCA" performed in a pastiche of chamber music style.
Willy, Fuzzy and Lisa walk along the beach. While it is again unstated, the presumption is that Howard has died. They talk about an upcoming ACT UP demonstration. They talk about remembering a time before AIDS and wonder about finding a cure. The film ends with a momentary fantasy sequence, with the friends and others lost to AIDS appearing with them on the beach, before they vanish again and the three are left to walk off the deserted beach while the song "Post-Mortem Bar", by Zane Campbell, plays on the soundtrack.Campbell Scott as Willy
Patrick Cassidy as Howard
John Dossett as Paul
Mary-Louise Parker as Lisa
Stephen Caffrey as Fuzzy
Welker White as Rochelle
Bruce Davison as David
Mark Lamos as Sean
Dermot Mulroney as John
Michael Schoeffling as Michael
Brian Cousins as Bob
Annie Golden as Heroin Addict
Brent Barrett as Soap Actor
Dan Butler as Walter
Robi Martin as Transvestite
Robert Joy as Ron
Tony Shalhoub as Paul's Doctor
David Drake as GMHC Volunteer
Michael Carmine as Alberto
Melora Creager as Finger Lakes Trio
Jesse Hultberg as Finger Lakes Trio
Lee Kimble as Finger Lakes Trio
Brad O'Hare as restaurant waiter
The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 100% based on 16 reviews.
Roger Ebert wrote “Longtime Companion is about friendship and loyalty about finding the courage to be helpful and the humility to be helped.” Peter Travers from Rolling Stone commented “Funny, Touching and Vital, Longtime Companion is the best American movie so far this year. It is also, astonishingly, the first major feature to detail the gay community’s battle against the AIDS epidemic.”
Longtime Companion garnered a number of awards and honors, many for the performance of Bruce Davison. In addition to his Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, Davison won a Golden Globe award, an Independent Spirit Award, a National Society of Film Critics award, and a New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Supporting Actor. Other awards and nominations include:Deauville Film Festival Critics Award - Norman René (nominated)
GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film (won)
Political Film Society Award for Human Rights (nominated)
Sundance Film Festival Audience Award - Dramatic (won)
Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize - Dramatic (nominated)
The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival.
2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – Nominated
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists: