Saturday, August 1, 2020

Do They Really Want to Love Forever? STRAIGHT UP

Straight Up
is a romantic comedy most satisfyingly unusual. It’s poised and witty, a torrent of snappy repartee between a central couple whose compatibility is sparkling and clear. That’s not exactly unexpected, though of course it’s been so long since anyone could pull even that much off that it’s a delight to see it can still be done. The hook, though, is where the unexpected sets in, and where the movie becomes a delicate tightrope dance across modern sexual politics and categories. Because it believes deeply in its lead characters, and really sees them in all their earnest searching, it barely steps wrong. The film’s young writer-director James Sweeney, making his debut feature, stars as an obsessive compulsive gay man whose persnickety self doubt (and repulsion to bodily fluids) has made it difficult for him to find a meaningful emotional or physical connection. Inexperienced and frustrated, he’s happy and surprised to discover sparks flying when he meets a charming young would-be actress (Katie Findlay). The two quickly discover compatibility. They share a clever sense of humor and similar cultural reference points (from Gilmore Girls to Halloweentown), and have bubbly banter that rat-a-tats with dizzy screwball pacing which flirts easily between good-natured agreement and gently irascible debate. The only problem, the young man supposes, is that up until very recently he thought he was gay. She, too, seems similarly out of step with the sexualized dating of their social scene, and is happy to take it slow. Why, this pairing might just work out for the best. As the two well-drawn and sympathetic characters navigate their flowering relationship, the movie finds an easy rhythm to its development, with people trying to make a life together as they also try to find themselves. It’s willing to think outside the box and explore sexual orientations in its fluidity, and finds wry asides with a supporting cast of one- or two- or three-scene ringers (Tracie Thoms, Betsy Brandt, Randall Park). Brimming with charm and gently prodding insight—and some satirical elbows thrown against modern mores—Sweeney makes a most auspicious debut. Filmed in pastel colors and well-staged in a boxy aspect ratio, its tender textures and fastidious design—look at the just-so sets, well-chosen bookshelves, and those two sequences of sharply used split-screen— match the just-so attitude of its outwardly poised protagonists, all the better to watch as they struggle to actualize their best lives. Think watercolors painted with hints of Wes Anderson and Gregg Araki, used to make a new film all its own.

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