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 both 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 two Bens dominate the proceedings, 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 completely as we might like, and the plot doesn’t seem fully shaped and concludes rather awkwardly and arbitrarily. But both these cavils are minor next to the sizable achievements of this feature, a recipient of a 1999 Chicago Underground Film Fund grant. 101 min. (JR)

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