Writer, actor and director James Sweeney said the impetus for “Straight Up,” his debut feature film, came from a sobering epiphany ― even though the final product is very much an “arthouse screwball” rom-com.
“It started from a feeling of wanting to explore the improbability of finding your soul mate,” Sweeney, who is based in Los Angeles, told HuffPost. “And the more finicky you are, the lesser the odds.”
HuffPost got a sneak peek at “Straight Up,” which is being shown at Outfest Los Angeles this week following its world premiere at San Francisco’s Frameline Film Festival last month, via the exclusive clip above. The scene introduces Todd (played by Sweeney), a neurotic gay man whose attempts at relationships with men leave him feeling unfulfilled.
Todd bonds with Rory (Katie Findlay), an aspiring actress with her own set of insecurities. However, the friendship brings on an identity crisis of sorts as Todd begins to wonder if he’s only socially conditioned himself to be gay and can find happiness by dating a woman.
Though friends dismiss the idea as an example of Todd’s internalized homophobia, Rory agrees to pursue a romantic relationship with him ― though sex and other acts of physical intimacy are off the table. Things take a comical turn when Todd introduces Rory to his parents (Randall Park and Betsy Brandt), as seen in the above scene.
Describing his cinematic voice as “dialogue-driven, balanced and whimsical ― but not for lack of heart,” Sweeney cites Joss Whedon and Bryan Fuller as artistic influences. He also sees “Straight Up” as a unique film in that its LGBTQ themes are “incidental.”
“The genre and style are inherently atypical within the LGBTQ space,” he said. “And while there is a sexual identity crisis, shame is not the driving force — the sexuality spectrum is very much normalized.”
And, ultimately, the filmmaker would like “Straight Up” to send a message of optimism to all audiences, regardless of their relationship status.
“For anyone who feels alone or unlovable, I want to say chin up,” he said. “If there is hope for Todd and Rory, there is hope for you.”
“Straight Up” screens at Outfest Los Angeles on July 23 and 24.