Last updated on 6 days ago
In 1950’s Hollywood, movie star Guy Stone must marry a studio secretary in order to conceal his homosexuality. Sally has no idea her marriage is a sham, though, and turns Guy’s life upside-down. Then he falls in love.
I’m not gay — ask my wife Satire echoes real-life story of Rock Hudson
Mick LaSalle, Chronicle Movie Critic
We’ve all met someone like this: Appealing, but insubstantial; likable, but not worthy, the kind of person who’s charming for 10 minutes at a party but tiresome over dinner. Well, “Straight-Jacket” is the movie equivalent of that type of individual. It has verve, color and energy, but there’s something fundamentally bogus about it, and whenever it takes a turn into seriousness, entire moments fall apart.
Yet to the extent that it’s a satire, it has its moments, and it’s intermittently amusing throughout. It stars Matt Letscher as Guy Stone, a 1950s matinee idol on the order of Rock Hudson. Like Hudson, he’s gay, but only a small circle is aware of this. When the secret is out, and a newspaper is about to blow his cover, he does the one thing he can do to save his career. He gets married immediately to the first woman who’s available, Sally (Carrie Preston), his boss’ hapless secretary.
Sally is in love with Guy and has no idea he’s gay, and for a while that’s amusing. She’s ecstatic and believes that he’s in love with her, and her exuberance spills over into things like redecorating his home. She throws away expensive art pieces and brings in sofas with plastic covering. OK, funny enough.
But there’s a big problem in the comic strategy: Writer-director Richard Day expects us to laugh with sympathy at Guy’s horrendous predicament — as though in marrying a woman under false pretenses and being forced to live with her, he’s being inconvenienced by her. But she’s the victim. In a sense, the filmmaker recognizes this by having characters occasionally acknowledge what a raw deal Sally is getting. But his comic impulses continue to come from a bizarre place. In one scene, Guy explains to his adoring wife that he doesn’t want to share a room with her, ever, and the audience is supposed to side with him.
Then — and here’s where the movie collapses — we’re suddenly supposed to care when Guy, who has been established as an arrogant louse to his lovers and to his wife, suddenly decides that he’s in love. He falls in love with a writer (Adam Greer), who, of course, looks like a model. The writer is also a Communist, which means we get a whole thing about the red- baiting witch hunts of the 1950s.
In a way, “Straight-Jacket” is rather like the disposable, interchangeable boyfriends that Guy has at the beginning of the film. Still, the actors go a decent way toward selling it. Letscher assumes the carriage, manner and stentorian delivery of a ’50s idol, and Preston, as Sally, has a delightful zaniness and an arresting way of thinking on camera. Her face consistently registers a rapid succession of, not fixed emotions, but rather fluid half-formed impressions. She has a real talent for the close-up.