“Straight Up” is the quippiest, most quotable romantic comedy of the year.
There’s no arguing over that. The proof is in the patter, all of it played at “on the spectrum” speed.
“You’re the nicest person.” “I’m not. I always lie to homeless people. I always have chance. I just don’t give it to them.”
“I thought I saw Amy Adams at Trader Joe’s. But it was only Isla Fisher.”
“I feel like Sandra Bullock in ‘The Blind Side’ — making dreams come true!”
“What if this is like that movie, ‘As Good as It Gets?'” “What if ‘Something’s Got to Give,’ like that movie, ‘The Day After Tomorrow?”
Writer-director and star James Sweeney, in remaking a short film of his, attempts nothing less than a re-imagining of the “gay BFF” cliche for a non-binary age. And while I can’t say that he necessarily pulls that off, he’s made a sparkling romance where the connection is all about the cute, and compatibility.
Sweeney stars as Todd, a tech worker and “professional house sitter” living, lovelessly, in L.A. He’s in therapy. He speaks in those clipped, perfectly-formed but breathlessly-delivered phrases that the movies and “The Big Bang Theory” have conditioned us to accept as autistic-smart.
But being smart, squeamish about all sorts of things (most having to do with bodily fluids and functions), fastidious and speaking like that got him labeled, early on.
So he’s lived his life figuring he’s gay. Only, maybe not. He can’t seem to connect with any same-sex partners and finds the various sex acts required repellent. So maybe he’s not gay. His shrink (Tracie Thoms) isn’t sure, either.
“I’m not PAYING you to laugh at me.”
“Your PARENTS pay me!”
Todd is always tidying up stores, or reshelving library books. People ask him “Do you work here?” a lot. That’s how he meets Rory (Katie Findlay).
Their banter is informal, quick and simpatico in the extreme.
“One can like ‘Gilmore Girls’ and not be gay!”
He figures he needs to get that out there. But they’re Cary and Kate, Will & Grace together. Both of them feel it.
She’s an aspiring actress whose improv class, where she almost instantly and almost-always crosses a line, should be telling her to take up stand-up comedy instead. He’s happier house sitting (and “organizing” when he does) than whatever college trained him to do.
Rory and Todd click. They’re chatty, clever, adorable and — here’s the tricky part — aridly asexual together.
How can this work out? He’s confused, she’s slow on the uptake even if she isn’t “gay blind” the way “America was in the ’60s” or South Carolina is today.
His friends, the vain, ditzy and flirtatious model Meg (Dana Drori, hilarious) and the aggressively sexual and gay Ryder (James Scully) are ready to put them to the test.
His parents (Betsy Brandt and Randall Park) are eager to name the date. Well, she is. Dad? Casting Randall Park as Todd’s dad is so perfect that we’re invited to see his sexual identity role model right there in front of us, fey, funny and “confused,” which have long been Park’s screen specialty.
Throw in “racist” (a classic Park touch) and you’ve made your character a scene-stealer.
“Straight Up” wrestles with its messaging, which bogs the picture down. It takes a few predictable turns, and some predictably unpredictable ones. But Sweeney maintains the manic patter even when the pacing flags.
As a leading man, he’s playing more of a “type” than a character. Yes, this guy could have taken the lead on “The Big Bang Theory” had Jim Parsons auditioned out. Yes, this is like a “Will & Grace” reboot without the flaming or the bitching or the bitchy flaming.
Findlay has a “This year’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead” vibe about her — verbose, with a vocal fry, sexy more by default than demeanor.
Needless to say, everybody’s timing — leads and supporting players — has to be spot-on for “Straight Up” to come off. Which, for the most part, it does.
Findlay and Todd don’t necessarily sell us on what they’re selling here. But they’re so cute together we buy into them as a couple, sales resistance be damned.
MPAA Rating: unrated, sex scenes and sexual situations, profanity
Cast: James Sweeney, Kate Findlay, Dana Drori, James Scully, Betsy Brandt, and Tracie Thoms and Randall Park.
Credits: Written and directed by James Sweeney. A Strand release on Netflix.
Running time: 1:36