Made in 2002 by writer/director P.J. Hogan (Muriel’s Wedding, My Best Friend’s Wedding), shelved by its studio for several years, then released directly to the Starz Cable Network and then to DVD with virtually no mention, Unconditional Love is another of those gems which has fallen through the cracks of the capricious Hollywood distribution system. Kathy Bates (Misery, Fried Green Tomatoes, Fred Claus) stars as frumpy Chicago housewife, Grace Beasley, who idolizes a cheesy love crooner, Victor Fox, played with manic glee by Jonathan Pryce (Brazil, Pirates of the Caribbean). When her husband (played by Dan Ackroyd) leaves her the day before Victor is murdered in Chicago (on his way to a television appearance where Grace was to finally meet him); Grace is inspired to hop a flight to England to attend his funeral.

In a bizarre turn of events (few things in this film aren’t bizarre), she bonds with Victor’s grieving gay lover, Dirk Simpson, played by Rupert Everett (My Best Friend’s Wedding, voice of Prince Charming in the Shrek films). After arranging a comeuppance for Victor’s homophobic sisters (Lynn Redgrave, Stephanie Beacham, and Marcia Warren), Grace and Dirk return to Chicago to solve Victor’s murder and bring his killer to justice. This quest leads the pair, along with Grace’s daughter-in-law (Meredith Eaton, who almost steals the movie), on an odyssey through the bowels of downtown Chicago in pursuit of “The Crossbow Killer” (Did I mention that Victor was killed by a serial killer?). And if all that weren’t enough, Julie Andrews does a cameo that will forever change the way you look at her.

The film makes good use of Chicago as well, featuring the Billy Goat Tavern for an extended scene (more than I’ve ever seen), as well as long sequences in the dark and often foreboding underground areas that the Goat leads to. Many films have showcased lower Wacker Drive, but Wacker is actually just one of a whole array of streets in Chicago that have a “lower” version. Lower Randolph, Michigan, Columbus and numerous other streets, byways and subterranean loading docks combine with pedways and tunnels to create a vast labyrinthine “Underground Chicago.” And since the underground is where the Crossbow Killer lurks, Unconditional Love lingers there for a long time with hilarious results. The lower portion of the Michigan Avenue bridge even comes into play during the film’s climactic scene.

Now I could definitely see how this movie could not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it tickled me to no end. If you’re yearning for a comedy that feels completely different and has a sense of humor that is by turns twisted, silly, painfully clever, and delightfully campy (Jonathon Pryce as the Liberace-esque/Iglesiasish/Humperdinkian love crooner is worth the price of admission in itself), Unconditional Love will definitely float your boat.