Last night PJ and I watched The Art of Being Straight a 2008 comedy/drama about a young twenty-something who moves to Los Angeles after breaking up with his girlfriend. He takes an entry-level job at an advertising agency, where he starts getting hit on by one of his bosses, a guy named Paul. His response to these come-ons opens up the possibility that he might not be as straight as he and his friends had always thought. I really liked this complex look at sexuality.

Here’s the trailer:

The Art of Being Straight was written and directed by Jesse Rosen, who also stars as the lead character, Jon. Jon has a reputation among his friends for being a ladies man, the kind of guy who, somewhat inexplicably, is able to hook up with any girl he wants. When Paul, played by Johnny Ray, starts hitting on him, Jon’s surprised to find himself attracted to this older man. Although he admits to Paul that he experimented with a friend in high school, he had never gone all the way with a guy before. Equally surprising is that, while he’s not ready to date a guy, he is interested in hooking up more than once.

This experience throws Jon for a loop. He follows it up by immediately sleeping with a woman, but he can’t help but start asking himself what this experience with Paul really means. Is he just curious? Is he gay now? Or is something else going on? He doesn’t feel gay, but in our culture sleeping with a guy, even if just once, seems to define your sexuality as gay regardless of whether you also sleep with women.

What I like most about this movie is that Rosen lets Jon sincerely question what’s going on. This character really doesn’t seem to know why he’s responding to his boss in this way. And what’s also great is that the movie doesn’t offer quick and easy solutions. Jon doesn’t immediately come out as gay. Nor does he suddenly fall in love with Paul. I also like that this film shows all relationships — gay and straight — as complicated and fraught with contradictory impulses and desires, not just Jon’s.

Two of the supporting story lines emphasize this last point. Rachel Costillo plays Maddy, Jon’s pot-smoking college friend, who now identifies as a lesbian. Even so, she finds herself feeling smothered by her girlfriend’s desire to move in together and confused by her fantasies of sleeping with her new neighbor, a very sexy history teacher, Aaron, played by Pete Scherer. On the one hand, I like that the movie admits that we all have fantasies about sleeping with all kinds of people. On the other hand, I like that it doesn’t suddenly turn Maddy straight. Costillo also has the best lines in the film. When Aaron asks her if she has a condom, she sardonically replies, “I’m a lesbian.” When Jon tells her about his experience with Paul, she, of course, wants to know if he topped or bottomed. When she figures out that he let Paul top him, she deliciously exclaims, “You are the cutest little bottom!”

The second supporting plot line involves Jon’s roommate, Andy, played by Jared Grey.  Jon is crashing at Andy’s house while he saves money for his own place. Like Maddy, Andy finds himself being suffocated by his girlfriend, but in his case he just wants to sleep around with other women. When his girlfriend catches him flirting with another woman at a party, he’s got to decide whether he wants to cheat or stay with her.

And finally, this movie incorporates a lot of elements from mumblecore, include cameos by Greta Gerwig and Joel Swanberg. Like mumblecore, it also doesn’t provide a traditional resolution. Jon hasn’t suddenly become gay at the end nor has he declared his heterosexuality. He’s told those important to him that he’s had this experience, but he’s also learned that Paul isn’t ever going to be boyfriend material or even an interesting fuck buddy. Instead, it leaves us with the sense that Jon will simply continue living his life and see what happens, which is perhaps the best ending possible.

My only complaint about the ending was that I had come to really enjoy these characters. I just wish it were an HBO series so that we could see what happens next!

Advertisements