DVD Review - The Last Straight Man

This is Mark Bessenger's third feature, and there are a lot of similarities between this and his first two. There's a running strand of DNA between all three, evidence of Bessenger as a filmmaker, his tendencies or things that occupy the right side of his mind and motivate his creative hands.

Bessenger's second and previous feature Bite Marks takes place entirely in one confined location. He repeats that setup here. His first feature Rhapsody was a romance between two men where there was a significant negotiation of sexuality as it fluctuated from hetero-to-homoerotic, the uncomfortable mechanics of the physical act and the internalized, identity issues.

This movie has the most in common with Rhapsody in that the same negotiation is present, the whole thing being a verbal duel between two men, a conversational tug-of-war where one guy pulls the other along and the other guy occasionally pulls back. The exception is that Rhapsody is more dramatic, whereas this movie is more comedic. The dynamics and overall feeling are very much parallel, and, the two characters in Rhapsody are almost the same as the ones here in terms of their choices.

Given Rhapsody was originally lost twenty years ago and only recently restored, I wonder if this third feature is Bessenger trying to work out things or issues he tried to work out in Rhapsody. That 1994 film was quite well-written, well-directed and well-acted, but because it never got properly released or released at all in twenty years, perhaps Bessenger felt the need to go back to that well. If so, he makes an intriguing return with this movie.

Mark Cirillo (The Seminarian and The Men Next Door) stars as Lewis, an aspiring author who hosts his friend's bachelor party the night before the wedding. He's slightly frustrated because he just learned that he's no longer the best man in the wedding ceremony, but yet the bachelor party still goes down in his hotel room. Lewis secretly reads romance novels, probably due to the fact that he's a romantic at heart. He's not solely the comic relief, but his defense mechanism or default is always to crack a joke.

Scott Sell (Out to Kill) co-stars as Cooper, a store manager and the groom who enjoys a female stripper in Lewis' hotel room. He gets drunk and decides to stay the night with Lewis even after the bachelor party ends. He winds up talking and laughing with Lewis the whole time. They tease and insult each other. Cooper then begins to push Lewis into telling him crazy sex stories, almost as if he's intentionally digging for something.

He doesn't admit it until years later, but Cooper clearly is trying to seduce Lewis. He seems surprised or shocked when Lewis reveals himself to be bisexual, but it's likely that Cooper already knew or had a suspicion. He eventually leads Lewis into having sex. The next morning, Lewis is happy to learn Cooper doesn't seem to regret that act.

Kilian Melloy from EDGE Media Network pointed out that this movie then becomes essentially Same Time, Next Year (1978). Lewis and Cooper agree to meet in this exact hotel room on the exact same night every year. It's also similar to Brokeback Mountain (2005) except it's set in present-day or future time, they meet in a hotel and not a mountain, and we never see full scenes of their lives outside their hook-ups, merely stills or snapshots.

Cooper gets married and has children, yet he secretly meets Lewis once every year to have sex with him. The movie depicts nearly a decade of this. Actually, after the bachelor party, the movie depicts three full nights out of that decade as well as a weird coda.

Each night is pivotal in the relationship between them. Each night also reveals a lot about them. It's funny because each night becomes a series of interruptions of what should be non-stop sex or endless homoeroticism. Sometimes, the interruptions are comedic like when a maid shows up. Other times, it's more serious when Cooper's wife calls. All the while, two things are occurring.

The first thing occurring is Cooper's struggle with what he's willing to do sexually or even say in regard to his sexuality. Cooper engages in obvious and overt gay behavior but he refuses to say he's gay or even bisexual. He stubbornly reiterates that he's straight. Bessenger cleverly crafts a game of three questions, which allows the guys to ping-pong this struggle. If anyone watched the British series Hollyoaks back in 2007, then Cooper's character is an adult version of Craig Dean, played by Guy Burnet (Mortdecai and Ray Donovan).

Mark Cirillo (left) and Scott Sell
in 'The Last Straight Man'
The second thing occurring is Lewis' trajectory, which is a little on the same path as Cooper. Only, Lewis' trajectory is faster because his path isn't obstructed by something like a wife. At the outset, Lewis is somewhat pretending to be straight. However, once these annual hook-ups begin, Lewis isn't stubborn. He's okay saying he's gay to which he does gradually arrive, and it might be that Lewis also gradually arrives at learning what he will accept or what he feels like he deserves or what's best.

At first, it seems like an easy and fun arrangement, a friend with benefits, but during a phone conversation, Lewis' invitation suggests he has romantic feelings for Cooper. The one major hurdle is Cooper's resistance to kiss Lewis. It harkens back to the rule in Pretty Woman (1990). No, neither is a prostitute, but a kiss among many is still regarded as a more intimate act than oral and even anal sex.

Speaking of anal sex, there has been a recent swing in films dealing with the mechanics of it, including most especially preparation, meaning the cleaning of the rear end. The films dealing with these mechanics also include the accidental defecating during the act of copulation. Recent films and even TV programs that have dealt with this have been the TV documentary Everything You Wanted to Know About Gay Porn Stars, the independent films Violet Tendencies, Keep the Lights On, The Skinny and Season 2 of Looking even has a scene of male douching.

Cirillo gives a damn good performance, building off a great turn in his first leading role in The Seminarian. Sell is the epitome of the DVD cover image. He's a naked cowboy, a slightly more talkative and privileged version of Heath Ledger's Oscar-nominated character in Brokeback Mountain. Aside from some found footage-like or camera-point-of-view shots, Bessenger doesn't really direct this movie with much or any kind of panache as he did in Rhapsody nor does he inspire the same heart-wrenching performances as he did from Nic Arnzen and particularly D.B. Collins, but again Bessenger's tone is more rom-com than intriguing drama. He continues his levity streak that definitely was amplified in his second and previous feature Bite Marks.

My only criticism is a trick done by the female stripper isn't actually shown. It's a trick where she picks up a quarter using her genitals. Yet, it's shot in a way that she could have just used her hands. It's a lame cheat.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains full-frontal nudity, graphic sex and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 50 mins.

Comments

  1. Tired banter is not dialog. Douche instruction is not hot sex. "OMG--I didn't know guys could do that" has nothing to do with contemporary urban life (not even 10 years back). Bro Best Buds don't need silly "question" games to share about sexual exploits. Deflative phone calls during sex lets the air out of the dramatic energy as well. I'm afraid I don't care much whether two West Hollywood beauty bootys find true love among the penises. "Don't hurt your kids like your father hurt you" is a pretty shallow and self-centered foundation for considering the morality of clandestine promise-breaking on a calendared basis. Overhearing phone sex is a bit too specialized a taste for my taste. (With yet another f'ing interrupt.) Nor do I look forward to excruciatingly long "audition actor scenes" in closeup showing emotional range about grandmothers and hats and life-messages that just happen to hit the mark in terms of the script. So: by no means awful, but awfully sophomoric. I did like the Hitchcockian sex scene with the maid in the next room. Cirillo seems like a nice, smart, handsome guy in the DVD extras; and he's the better of the two actors. I admire the daring of his nose. I'm afraid his nasal vocal tones will limit him to comedic minor roles, and I think that's too bad. I recommend the evil-but-silent type. And I'm not being snarky--I'd be glad to see him again.

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