starring Katie Findlay, James Sweeney, Randall Park, Betsy Brandt
written and directed by James Sweeney
by Walter Chaw James Sweeney's hyphenate debut Straight Up is a dense, screwball, and occasionally irritating though ultimately rewarding wall of words swirling around and between erstwhile lovers Rory (Katie Findlay) and Todd (Sweeney, a triple-threat here) as they negotiate standard relationship stuff like dating and cohabitation--and not-so-standard romcom fare like Todd's apparent asexuality (which is possibly homosexuality). In its antic vibe and its characters' strategy of obscuring their feelings behind shoals of patter, Straight Up most reminds of Hal Hartley's work. Todd has a thing about fluids, considers sex embarrassing and/or disgusting, and has interests obscure enough--and opinions abrasive enough--that he's having trouble finding someone who will tolerate him, let alone like him. Enter Rory, who, while enjoying sex fine, thank you, talks the same way, thinks the same way, and finds most of Todd's peccadillos to be charming.
Straight Up is a fine showcase for an emerging voice who is smart enough to keep things tight. It's fleet and sometimes facile, but its central couple is endearing and committed to discovering the people obscured by all that affectation. The picture's great strength is its refusal to place Rory and Todd in any sort of box. I like the grand romantic gesture when Todd's hired a group of actors to dance and perform while he sings Rory a song outside her work, and how Sweeney deflates it as so much sociopathic bullshit that's beneath the dignity of these people. Todd and Rory feel complicated and true: They're messy when the film opens and they're messy when it's over--the only real growth is in their acceptance of themselves as Gordian knots who happen to have had the good fortune to meet each other. It's a film about being lucky and, finally, about being grateful. Worth a look.