Netflix just dropped a bizarre comedy this weekend starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams. Netflix will green-light just about everything, which was music to Ferrell’s ears – literally. Finally, his semi-chub for Eurovision would pay off! If it’s not already the #1 viewed film on the streaming platform, I’m sure it will be soon. And it does have its funny moments, even I can admit that.
But Straight Up is also a new release on Netflix, and this one’s a movie you actually should see.
Todd (James Sweeney) is a confused young man. He’s neurotic, he’s OCD, he’s phobic, he’s addicted to therapy, which tends to stir up more questions than answers. One recent question is: am I actually gay?
Sexuality may be quite obvious to most, but Todd is wondering if maybe he just internalized the label from having been bullied as a child. He hasn’t really had any relationships, nor has he had sex thanks to an aversion to bodily fluids. He tests out this new theory on two long-time (/only) friends, who are less than enthusiastic for this line of thinking. Of course he’s gay, they assure him. Of course. But Todd is petrified of dying alone, and since adding females to the mix more than doubles the dating pool, the math is on his side. More or less. It may be a tad difficult to attract women with his distinct “I’m gay” vibe.
But not, it turns out, impossible. He meets Rory (Katie Findlay) and they immediately bond of Gilmore Girls, which is apt because they too are hyper-verbal. The dialogue zings between them rapid-fire and yet feels natural. Sweeney and Findlay have an incredible chemistry that belies an instant connection and intimacy. They are intellectual soulmates. But can they sustain a romance?
This film is all kinds of incredible. First, we get to explore a young and fluid concept of sexual identity. These kids are not afraid to redefine society’s so-called institutions to suit their own needs. They don’t ask whether they can be romantic partners but not sexual ones – they just get to it. Nothing’s off the table and everything can be negotiated.
It’s still pride month, and you may have noticed that among all of the letters of the rainbow (LGBTQia2+), the Q stands for both queer, and for questioning, which doesn’t necessarily mean that someone’s sexuality is in limbo. It can simply be an admission that sexuality is a spectrum, and one’s place on it may be in flux (a sort of agnosticism for sexual orientation, if you will). Generation Z much more readily embraces these gradations. And I don’t mean that it’s easy or it’s perfect, just that our understanding continues to expand, and there’s a lot more nuance than just the binary female/male, hetero/homosexual.
Five years ago, James Sweeney was a lowly assistant to Duke Johnson, who himself is not a household name, but he was co-director on that wonderful stop-motion animated film by Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa. Flash forward only a few years, and he’s already writing and directing his own films, and even more incredibly, they’re actually first rate. He’s not just putting sexuality on trial, he’s questioning our basic definition of romantic love. As he should. The truth is, no relationship strictly conforms to a dictionary’s ideal. Maybe love can only be defined by the people who are feeling it. And maybe we should just chuck out these meaningless labels anyway.
I feel energized by these challenges to the status quo, but most of all I was just falling a little in love with Rory and Todd myself. Their wit and effervescence perfectly captures that consuming and in fact addicting aspect of new love. Recognition of this higher connection is intoxicating and exhilarating and you just want more, more, more. While I would categorize Sean as “distressingly straight” and myself as “pansexual,” still we recognize a bit of ourselves in this young couple, because those first heady days of romance are unmistakable. Sweeney and Findlay give generous performances and make easy work of what I can only imagine was a pretty hefty script. And an impressive one at that.
Look for Straight Up on Netflix.