There is a line repeated a couple of times in the new indie Gayby in which the hero, Matt, asks a potential sexual partner if they can not go below the waist. I have to be honest. I’m not even sure exactly what that means when it comes to doing the deed (except it seems to suggest they won’t be doing it). But at the same time, I think in many ways, it’s a rather apt description of the movie. Gayby is a perfectly okay movie. It’s solidly done and one has to give street creds to writer/director Jonathan Lisecki (who also plays Nellie Bear Nelson in it) for getting it done-no mean feat these days. It also gets some laughs and has some moving moments. At the same time, it never really rises above what it is. It never takes any real chances. It doesn’t have much of an edge. It’s very non-threatening. It’s also one of those movies with gay characters and gay subject matter in which all the sex in it is straight. In other words, it never really goes below the waist.
The basic premise of Gayby is that a straight woman, Jenn (played appropriately enough by Jenn Harris), wants a baby, but is tired of the Sisyphean task of trying to find a husband in New York City (don’t you find it odd in movies like this that the central character who continually wails that it’s impossible for anybody to find a mate in any city is usually the only single person in the whole film?). So she asks her best gay friend Matt (played by Matthew Wilkas—don’t worry, that’s where the naming pattern ends) to impregnate her. And he agrees. At the same time, Matt is still recovering from the break up of a six year relationship that apparently was so bad that he asked his ex- to not come by the comic book store Matt owns on the days that Matt is there, even though the ex- is in the comic book business (at the end Matt makes a request of this ex- that is suppose to suggest a fulfillment of his character arc, but suggested instead to me the opposite and more indicated someone who makes bad business decisions).
But in the end, for all its positive points, Gayby is more for people who have never seen Will & Grace, or actually any movie in the last twenty years that revolves around gay parenthood. The only original take here is that Jenn wants to get pregnant the old fashioned way—by the missionary position. It’s an interesting idea, but since it really only takes up a minute part of the movie and is never really a driving force of the story, it doesn’t really add much to what has come before. Beyond this, Gayby is a pretty familiar story with pretty familiar conflicts played out in pretty familiar ways (with all the characters living in the most amazing apartments and homes that seem far beyond their pay grade). The only really clever twist comes toward the end and show promise, but since Gayby is basically an extended sit-com episode, even that doesn’t really cause that much of a ruckus. By the time the whole thing is over, everyone has found their happy ending with everything resolved in rash free and comforting bunting (there is one note of ambiguity at the end that is very odd—and it’s unclear why Lisecki does this).
As a writer, Lisecki has a way with a clever bitch of a line and is having a ton of fun with an inside look at how the younger generation of gays see themselves with all their personal patois and inside look at themselves (what’s funny is that the very young Matt is already feeling he is being left behind by this younger set). However, Lisecki is not as deft when it comes to the acting. Though no one can be said to give a bad performance, at the same time, everybody hits their lines a bit too hard, telegraphing their emotions a bit too much. It works against the humor at times with scenes often falling flat.
At the same time, it must be said that when it comes to the acting, there are some welcome additions here in two refugees from the mumblecore movement: Adam Driver (who plays Lena Dunham’s boyfriend on Girls—he has one of the most fascinating faces in movies today—he shouldn’t be sexy looking, but somehow he is) and Alex Karposvky. What Parker Posey and James LeGros were to the independent movies of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, Karposvky is to mumblecore—always a welcome sight.
And Gayby is a mumblecore film with all its virtues and faults. From a virtue standpoint, it got done. Someone decided he wanted to make a film and found a way to do it. From a fault standpoint the film is also, if truth be told, a bit bland with no ambition to be anything more than a safe, not below the waist evening in the movie theater. From one point of view, I suppose it’s great that we now know that mumblecore swings both ways. I think that says a lot for mumblecore. I’m not sure it really says quite as much when it comes to movies with gay characters.