Straightman | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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It's obvious that Ben Berkowitz and Benjamin Redgrave were thinking of John Cassavetes's Shadows (1960) when they made this impressive Chicago-based feature. Both features grew out of acting classes and were written by their leads, and both even have titles that relate allegorically to their themes, with sexual orientation playing a role in Straightman similar to that of race in Shadows. Berkowitz (who also directed) plays the heterosexual manager of a comedy club, and Redgrave plays his best friend, a construction worker; the two become flatmates after losing their girlfriends, and only later does Redgrave admit that he's gay. The actors' delicacy, originality, and depth are what make this sensitive movie so affecting and justify the comparison to Cassavetes. But only up to a point: the two Bens dominate the proceedings, for better and for worse, making this more a two-man show than a genuine ensemble piece. None of the other able actors is given enough time or leeway to establish herself or himself as fully as one might like, and at times this even limits our understanding of how the two leads handle their various relationships. The plot, moreover, doesn't seem fully shaped and concludes rather awkwardly and arbitrarily. But both these demurrals are minor next to the sizable achievements of this feature, a recipient of the 1999 Chicago Underground Film Fund. A Chicago premiere; 101 min. On the same program, Wrist, a five-minute short by Matthew Harrison. Fine Arts, Friday, August 18, 7:30 and 9:30. --Jonathan Rosenbaum

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