Structured like a comedy, but outfitted with only the most tedious sexual-identity riffs, generic characterizations, and no singular point of view, The Art of Being Straight finds a perfectly bland putative hero in Jon (writer-director Jesse Rosen), who does awfully well with women for a guy who has what could be mistaken for “a herpe”—as Woody Allen used to call it—visible on his lower lip. Moving to L.A. from the East Coast on a rebound from an ex-girlfriend, Jon finds his office-flunky job draws the lascivious attention of his boss Paul (Johnny Ray Rodriguez), and despite the lad’s straight-faced denials, a wine-fueled roll in the hay follows. The film’s typically blasé etching of the older man makes it impossible to guess whether he’s meant to be judged as predatory or not, until we are reminded that, after all, he’s an ad executive. Meanwhile, Jon’s lesbian college chum Maddy (Rachel Castillo) dithers over moving in with her girlfriend just long enough to flirt over a bong with the scruffy hipster guy next door (Pete Scherer).
Full of glossy montages of SoCal’s adorably underemployed Caucasians and a sub-Bright Eyes songwriter wailing on the soundtrack, Art of Being Straight is the sort of dull coming-out movie that could’ve been produced as-is anytime in the last 20 years, with Jon’s “crisis” unfolding in a series of index-card-style developments like the Gay Panic-Compensatory Girl Fuck and the Charged Homophobic Buddy Confrontation. (Has Brokeback Mountain inspired a revival of “colon cowboy” as a basketball-court slur? Only Shirts and Skins know for sure.) Though Castillo’s role as an art-gallery drone is generally unrewarding, she at least gets the movie’s most liberating laugh when told of Jon’s true place on the Kinsey scale: “You are the cutest little bottom!” Too bad he’s also a cipher, and as a performer Rosen burns a black hole in the screen. A late party scene gives one-line cameos to mumblecore regulars Greta Gerwig and Kent Osborne, whose presence smacks of unearned winking; whether that subgenre maddens you or rings true, at least it dares to offend and risk anger, something this third-gear calling card does only through inertia.