- Strand Releasing
Love used to be simple: Boy meets girl. At least that's the story a lot of people tell themselves, nostalgic for a romantic binary that never existed beyond cultural conventions. In reality, a lot of love stories were never actually love stories, because the boy should have met a boy, or the girl should have met a girl, or the "boy" was actually a girl, or the girl never really wanted to be in love with anyone.
Writer/director James Sweeney's frisky Straight Up feels like the perfect romantic comedy for a time when, finally, people seem to be figuring all that out—only to realize that the absence of simple answers comes with its own drama. Sweeney also stars as Todd, a young Los Angeles man with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and a growing uncertainty as to whether he's actually gay or not, since he's never had sex with a man and has a profound aversion to bodily fluids. In classic rom-com meet-cute fashion, he befriends Rory (Katie Findlay), a struggling actor who seems to be his soulmate even though she's (gasp!) a woman, and the two soon become a couple. But what does "happily ever after" look like when wanting the same things in the living room doesn't necessarily mean wanting the same things in the bedroom?
Sweeney fills his screenplay with rat-a-tat dialogue exchanges, as Todd and Rory bounce off of one another's live-wire intellects with terrific chemistry, whether they're having fun together or fighting together. It's one of those screenplays that can seem a bit frustrating because all the characters talk with the same mile-a-minute hyper-literacy, but the terrific supporting cast—including Dana Drori as Todd's libidinous model gal-pal, and Betsy Brandt and Randall Park as Todd's parents—doesn't allow for much downtime to worry about such details between the laughs.
The real focus is on the central relationship, though, and Sweeney strikes a surprisingly sharp balance between playfulness and emotional curiosity. While Todd occasionally feels like a sexually-fluid interpretation of the circa-1970s on-screen Woody Allen persona, Sweeney manages to convey the frustration of someone who wants simple answers for whether he's gay, or bi, or asexual, or—as he says to his therapist—"what if I'm none of the above?" And Findlay provides an effervescent counterpoint as Rory tries to answer for herself whether Todd is capable of giving her everything she needs from a relationship.
Perhaps Straight Up's most interesting angle is, in a roundabout way, posing the question, "what if nobody can give you everything you need from a relationship, and you have to figure out what matters most in a soulmate?" It's satisfying enough to find a comedy that keeps the smiles coming. This one also pokes around in unfamiliar territory for cinematic romance, capturing a world of people trying to understand where they belong on a messy, ever-evolving spectrum that includes sexuality, deep friendship and the simple closeness conveyed in the question, "Can I hold your hand?"
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The Dog Doc
[SLFSatHome on May 8]
At a time when we're all emotionally fragile, it's hard to know whether this movie is particularly appealing because it features a lot of good doggies, or particularly upsetting because those good doggies are facing medical crises. Ostensibly, the subject here isn't those companion animals, but the doctor trying to help them: Dr. Marty Goldstein, a New York-based veterinarian who combines conventional methods with more controversial treatments like herbal supplements, cryogenically freezing cancerous tumors and offering intravenous vitamin C. Director Cindy Meehl plays fair enough with Dr. Goldstein that the film doesn't present him as a miracle-worker; not all of his patients have positive outcomes, and those who might be upset by animals in trouble should consider their viewing carefully. But it's still an interesting profile of the doctor and his staff, whose commitment to their patients includes a lot of treatments scoffed at by the medical establishment. The Dog Doc certainly serves as an endorsement of a holistic approach to veterinary care, and while it doesn't challenge Dr. Goldstein's methods, it sure gives an emotional punch to anecdotal evidence. (NR)