Jonathan Lisecki’s Gayby shouldn’t be confined to any demographic boxes (it has, after all, managed to soar beyond the queer-fest circuit), but there’s no avoiding the mention of its superiority within its genre. Though the landscape is evolving, it’s still no picnic trying to find a worthwhile gay movie, and gay comedies, specifically, seem doomed to exist as fuel for label-happy hate-mongers, their peddling of witless raunch painting the whole community as libidinous, bitchy airheads. An expansion of writer-director Lisecki’s hit short of the same name, Gayby reflects the spirit of familiar products from the gay laugh factory, while perhaps trumping just about all of them.
Its setup is one that’s been well-exploited, from Sundance to this fall’s primetime lineup: A gay man, Matt (Matthew Wilkas), and his best friend, Jenn (Jenn Harris), decide to have a child together au naturel, the possibly naïve idea—first hatched years ago over drinks in college, natch—partly indicative of their anti-establishment, work-in-progress lives. Rather than surrendering to a corporate grind, Jenn struggles to boost her career as a yoga instructor, and her endearing, borderline-hot-mess-ness is common fodder for co-worker chats. Matt, meanwhile, is a born geek working in a comic-book store, pining for a handsome customer while getting over his ex. Their authentically offbeat jobs both ground and propel the movie’s foxy humor, which is amply stocked with surprises and unabashed, irresistible puns. Gayby, for instance, might call itself the shiny needle in the gay-stack, and it would, most assuredly, be right.
But while Lisecki is well in tune with his film’s niche market, his knack for comedy, both visual and verbal, is universally hilarious. An indie theater vet, he writes and choreographs scenes with a current ear and an old soul, resulting in an overall rush of funny that feels expert and accessible. At times, he acts as his own conduit, nailing tack-sharp line deliveries as Nelson, Matt’s bear of a best friend, whose clichéd traits might annoy if they weren’t so deftly overcome. More than your typical, quotable, sibilant voice of reason, Nelson emerges as an unlikely pregnancy expert, and that’s well after he establishes his boundless, biting wit (Gayby scores one-liner gold with Nelson’s standout Showgirls reference, which hears him dissect “Nomi Malone” to mean “No, me, I’m alone,” underlining the dancer’s “existential angst”). And Lisecki certainly shares the wealth, gifting more great lines to Harris and wee beanpole Jack Ferver, who plays Jamie, Jenn’s work friend and quippy Nelson equivalent. A square-off between the two ostensibly token characters is as inevitable as it is overbearing, but ultimately, it serves as a quick, contained showcase of Lisecki’s natural, rat-a-tat gift for dialogue.
Gayby might be political by virtue of its existence, but that’s about where the statement-making ends. Its goal, which it handily achieves, is to be a largely lighthearted romp, thoroughly fit for any perch held by a hetero counterpart. Keen to keep the seriousness at bay, Lisecki sparks up sullen scenes with droll sight gags (like Jenn’s sad pushing of an empty baby swing), and lifts his all-is-lost, climactic montage with a raspy, balladic version of Beyoncé‘s “Crazy In Love.” Along with impromptu asides like a yoga-studio dance break, brought on by the energetic horniness Jenn develops after downing fertility tea, such outstanding touches still fit seamlessly into the story’s patchwork, which also boasts a refreshingly evenhanded protagonist. Bucking more gay-cinema trends, Matt is neither nelly queen nor markedly straight anomaly. He’s not rushing to disrobe his dates, but nor is he above seizing a hot moment, employing so-bad-they’re-perfect superhero jokes to boot (“What does the Human Torch say? Flame on”).
If there’s a current text that Gayby most closely mirrors, it’s probably HBO’s Girls, and the link has little to do with Harris’s Lena Dunham-esque aura, or cameos from series cast mates Alex Karpovsky and Adam Driver. Like Dunham’s show, Gayby draws zeitgeist-y, situational laughs from the lives of people it seems to know, rather than straining to position itself as a hip authority.
In a lesser movie, Jenn would have surely fulfilled her requirements as an archetypal hag, devising the plan to carry Matt’s baby just so she could chase the fantasy of being his squeeze. Worse yet, another film might have seen the two friends engage in a feature-length lead-up, hyping the big deed only to bail out at the very last moment. Though it struggles, as so many fine films do, with the easy temptations of a clean resolution, Gayby does neither of these things, and what traditions it does employ feel graciously dust-free. At this point, if it’s not the best comedy of the year, it’s easily the best to transcend the comedy formula.