On a Boston movie location years ago, David Mamet shared with me these words of wisdom he had gleaned from Lorne Michaels: “A guy comes home from college and finds his mother is sleeping with his uncle, his girlfriend is acting crazy — and there’s a ghost hanging around the house. Write it right, and you’ve got Hamlet. Write it wrong, and you’ve got Gilligan’s Island.”
In a similar vein: A straight woman deals with the consequences, and stretches the limits of friendship, when she is impregnated by her gay best buddy. Do it wrong, and you’ve got The Next Best Thing. Do it right, and you’ve got Gayby — the closing-night offering of QFest Houston, screening at 7 p.m. Monday at the Rice University Media Center.
"Hey, I don’t want to sound like an angry gay. But what can I say? I’m queeny, and I don’t care if other people don’t like that."
Written and directed by Jonathan Lisecki, who expanded it from his highly regarded 2010 short, Gayby pivots on the, ahem, fertile relationship between Jenn (Jenn Harris), a Manhattan yoga instructor, and Matt (Matthew Wilkas), a comic-book store clerk newly separated from his longtime boyfriend.
Tired of waiting for Mr. Right, Jenn asks Matt to help her become a single mother. Actual intercourse is a bit awkward for both, since they've been friends since college days, and Matt isn't terribly interested in close heterosexual contact. (One of the movie’s funniest scenes involves a very quick initial coupling.) Still, when there’s a will, there’s way.
Especially if that way entails an indirect approach devised by their mutual friend, a blithely bitchy wisecracker played with scene-stealing brio by Lisecki himself.
Gayby premiered last spring at the SXSW Film Festival, where it was promptly picked up by Wolfe Releasing, which plans to kick off theatrical engagements later this year, with a DVD/VOD debut slated for early 2013.
But, really, you don’t want to wait that long to see it, right?
Here’s a bit of what Jonathan Lisecki had to say about his movie during a recent telephone chat:
CultureMap: First off, congratulations for getting your film made in the first place, much less landing a distributor. Most people don’t really understand how many hoops you have to jump through just to complete an indie feature.
Jonathan Lisecki: Thanks. It was a lot of work. But you do what you’ve got to do if you want to do it.
CM: Should we assume that it’s in any way autobiographical?
JL: Well, actually, it is kind of based on something that didn’t happen. I had a long-standing pact with a friend of mine that we would have done something like this, with each other, if we hadn’t found anyone else. But she did.
So originally, I made the short because I was kind of sad, and I wanted to deal with that in a comedic way. And then I took it from there. And now the movie is sort of a fantasia of what it would have been like.
CM: Your character — and a few others in the film — are rather flamboyant. Were you ever afraid that some audiences, gay and straight, might accuse you of dealing in politically incorrect stereotypes?
JL: No, I absolutely don’t. I don’t even think that question is appropriate in 2012. I haven’t had any problems with gay or straight audiences laughing at my movie.
But, more importantly, my characters aren’t stereotypes. There’ve been versions of those characters before in many media, but I feel the differences [in Gayby] are clear. The characters in my movie are smarter than other people, they’re funnier than other people. And I’m also representing the vast array of gay culture. I mean, the lead is a kind of straight-acting guy who doesn’t fuck around a lot. He’s a comic-book store worker who wants to make art.
So, I think if you show one type, you can get away with showing the other type. Honestly, to me, these characters are kind of like a celebration of gay culture. And, really, the only people who ever ask me the stereotype question are journalists. Because no one in any audience has ever asked that. You know what I mean?
CM: Even at film festivals?
JL: [Laughs] I think we’re at a point now — look, film festival audiences are fairly savvy. And really, all you have to do is turn on an episode of Glee, you know? There is so much representation of gay culture on television right now that I think people are more comfortable with it.
Does that mean being able to laugh it? Sure. But does that also mean being able to understand it on a deeper level as well? Sure.
CM: But I think you’ll agree that there will always be those folks that I call the professionally outraged . . .
JL: Oh, sure, you’re always going to get that. Sure. But so far, the only time I’ve gotten that kind of response from an audience member — they were there writing for a newspaper. So I think you get it less from an audience than from people who are what you might call professionally concerned. Like, they’re concerned this is going to be an issue.
I would think it’d be more of an issue in films made by people who aren’t of the culture, but representing the culture. But I am a gay filmmaker. And I’m obviously not going to depict my culture in a way that it isn’t.
[Laughs] Hey, I don’t want to sound like an angry gay. But what can I say? I’m queeny, and I don’t care if other people don’t like that. It’s up to me, it’s not up to them. It’s my movie, so fuck ‘em.