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2019 SDAFF Film Reviews

SDAFF Review: ‘Straight Up’ is destined to become a cult classic

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Straight Up, directed by James Sweeney.

How does one define sexuality? Ask a million different people, and you’d probably get a million different answers. It’s only been a few years since sexual fluidity has become a widely accepted concept, but even today many people seem confined to one particular definition of sexual preference. Gay or straight. Homosexual or heterosexual. In popular media, greyed concepts like bisexuality seem to be scrapped in favor of other, more clear-cut terms. 

Enter writer James Sweeney’s debut feature film Straight Up, which gives one of the most hilariously confident, refreshingly original takes on sexuality (and bisexuality) on film in years. The film follows Todd (James Sweeney), an OCD, neurotic early 20-something who has decided that he might be straight after living his whole life as a gay man. After “coming out” to his gay friends who insist that this is nothing but just a phase, Todd crosses paths with Rory (Katie Findlay), a struggling Los Angeles actress who is also looking for love. Together, the two create a lovably comfortable bond–first as friends and later as a “couple.” But will they last?

The coming-of-age, rom-com film, which plays out as a modern-day screwball comedy (think the witty sharpness of Arsenic and Old Lace), shines in its hilarious rapid-fire dialogue and creative visuals. Thanks to Todd’s omnipresent neuroticism (many scenes in the film involve Todd talking to a therapist, allowing us to get a glimpse into Todd’s jumbled headspace) one of the film’s many quirks is just how quickly Todd can deliver a witty, stream-of-consciousness dialogue in a single breath (think delivery speeds akin to that of Tatami Galaxy). Just as impressive is Rory’s similarly hurried talking speeds which surprisingly matches the fast pace of our protagonist. Pay attention: if your mind wanders for just a split second, whole sentences and jokes will fly by. But all of this quick talk isn’t for naught–Sweeney jam packs each of his characters’ dialogue with an abundance of jokes that revel in the awkwardness of everyday life while remaining cleverly well-written. Coupled with vibrant, aesthetic cinematography, otherwise charming characters, and moments of utter joy, there isn’t a single moment wasted in the film’s runtime.

Rory (Katie Findlay) and Todd (James Sweeney).

But what makes the film truly shine is how it deals with that grey area that most other films wouldn’t dare to tackle. Instead of working within well-compartmentalized definitions of sexuality, Straight Up blurs the line by addressing many in-betweens. Is Todd straight, gay, or somewhere in-between? Are Todd and Rory friends, a couple, or, as the film calls it, purely “intellectual soulmates?” By the end of the film, Sweeney presents many opportunities for you to decide for yourself, but nothing seems as clear-cut as they might seem. Further topping off the film’s excellent dialogues is the charming visual style that accompanies it. Innovative and captivating in more ways than one, Straight Up is the innovative spiritual successor of (500) Days of Summer for a new generation. 

Topped off with other similarly interesting characters including Randall Park as Todd’s stereotype-bending dim-witted father and James Scully as Todd’s mean-spirited gay friend Ryder, Straight Up is a film that oozes with a budding writer’s wildly unrestrained vision. Prudish audiences might not be as invested in the often R-rated jokes, but open-mindedness and a solid attention-span will reveal that Straight Up is one of the most clever films in recent years. And for the rest of us, Straight Up is destined to become a cult classic.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Film pages: IMDb | Website

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Li-Wei Chu

Music and film lover from California.

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