It’s got every banned joke in it, but somehow makes you laugh through the discomfort.
Todd (James Sweeney) is a closet organizer who has crippling OCD. He is attracted to men, but finds himself unable to have sex due to his fears of bodily fluids. He decides to try and date women, something his psychoanalyst (Tracie Thomas) tells him to be careful about. He meets Rory (Katie Findlay), an aspiring actress who has emotional issues and the two quickly start to get along. However, for both of them, for different reasons, sex ends up being off the table. The course of “true” love never did run smooth…
Okay, so, within the first ten minutes of this movie, we’ve had the main characters make jokes about rape and homosexuality being a choice. There are jokes in this movie about school shootings, jokes about children dying, jokes about mental health issues, racist jokes, AIDS jokes, you name it. There are a ton of subjects that are covered that would land someone not only on a banned list, but likely on a watch-list. Hell, the premise is a guy looking for a beard, which they repeatedly compare to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Despite all of that, this movie almost never comes off as mocking or dismissive, but instead as two people who make incendiary remarks, mostly to each other, in order to deal with their own issues.
A huge amount of how Straight Up can pull this off is a combination of sincerity, tone, and timing. The lines in this movie are delivered between the leads at a rapid pace and in an almost completely aloof and deadpan style that makes it clear that what they say is mostly just to avoid the silence. They’re unbelievably quick and clever, but it’s all a facade, which makes it all the more impactful when the characters end up dropping it and being honest for a minute. Even with the great delivery, though, the main thing that keeps the movie working is how great and funny and off-the-wall the screenplay is. While a lot of the credit therefore has to go to Writer/Director/Star James Sweeney, without Katie Findlay to return all of his serves, this movie wouldn’t work.
I wanted to do a scene dissection of this film in order to demonstrate how the film manages to overcome so many barriers in order to be funny, but unfortunately, I couldn’t get it right. I’ll try to do it later, after I figure out how video editing works. However, I do want to talk about one scene in particular. There is a scene in which Rory and Todd are trying to talk about his sexuality, and Rory asks him about the elephant in the room. Todd then says if she means the white elephant in the room, which he says is a reference to “Hills Like White Elephants,” the story by Ernest Hemingway about abortion that never mentions abortion. They then have a debate over whether that story is the origin of the phrase (it’s not, the “Elephant in the Room “is from The Inquisitive Man by Ivan Krylov and popularized by Dostoyevsky). While their back and forth is fast and hilarious and manages to avoid talking about the actual subject, much like the story, it’s really a comment on something bigger in the movie. Namely, that Rory has a secret that, while the movie will never make it explicit, is so clear that much of the movie is about it (namely, that she is a survivor of sexual assault). It’s that kind of multi-level writing that really elevates the film.
Honestly, I really am impressed with this movie. I realize that it probably will offend a lot of people, but I thought it manages to be funny, touching, and insightful in ways that a movie that worries about offending people probably couldn’t. I am not saying that comedy should be forgiven for being offensive, but I am saying that good comedy should challenge preconceptions. This movie does that without punching down, which is just brilliant.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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