A low-key comedy high on charm and credible twentysomething observation, Jesse Rosen's debut feature, "The Art of Being Straight," stars the writer-director as a possibly-coming-out newbie in Los Angeles whose puzzling over his sexual identification isn't helped by his jokily insensitive straight buds.

A low-key comedy high on charm and credible twentysomething observation, Jesse Rosen’s debut feature, “The Art of Being Straight,” stars the writer-director as a possibly-coming-out newbie in Los Angeles whose puzzling over his sexual identification isn’t helped by his jokily insensitive straight buds. Appealingly played, nicely executed pic has a shot at arthouse distribution in addition to select DVD/cable sales and further fest travel.

Twenty-three-year-old John (Rosen) has just moved to L.A. from New York, ostensibly “taking a break” from his longtime girlfriend. He moves in with college bro Andy (Jared Grey), whose pals incessantly do that kind of “That is so gay” banter that’s essentially harmless — unless you’re the only gay guy in the room. (Acknowledging there actually is a distinction, one eventually queries “Is it ‘gay’ like it’s lame or ‘gay’ like it’s homosexual?”)

A quiet, genial guy among these more boisterous types, John is hardly comfortable discussing his shifting Kinsey scale placement with them, and his new job as bottom-rung gofer at a major ad agency is fraught with sexual tension as a studly boss (Johnny Ray Rodriguez) barrages him with thinly veiled come-ons.

Meanwhile, lesbian friend Maddy (Rachel Castillo) suffers her own travails, questioning her relationship commitment with g.f. Anna (Emilia Richeson) while developing a crush on nice-guy neighbor Aaron (Peter Scherer). Her own low-rung job at an art gallery is made torturous by bitchy, pretentious co-workers and customers.

Maddy isn’t undergoing a major life change, just a wee bi-curious phase. John isn’t so much closeted as simply figuring himself out. His peers aren’t real homophobes, just guys talking typical guy-trash. Narrative developments feel true to an increasingly frequent real-world dynamic too seldom seen in drama: When gay guy (or girl) is just “one of the guys,” not the token “gay friend” or the straight woman’s non-threatening pal. Pic’s slice of post-collegiate L.A. life likewise feels casually on-target in portraying an aspirational milieu that’s more Silverlake than Beverly Hills or West Hollywood.

Narrative grows a tad fragmentary toward the end, but “Art” and its characters remain ingratiating. Design and tech contribs are nicely turned.

The Art of Being Straight

Production

A Malvern Prods., Great Graffiti Films production, in association with Squarenone Cinema. Produced by Amy Wasserman, Ursula Camack. Executive producer, Laurence Ducceschi. Directed, written by Jesse Rosen.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-DigiBeta), Aaron Torres; editor, Rob Schulbaum; music, the Musical Theater, No Pilots No Demos, Trevor Howard; production designer, Karuna Karmarkar; sound, Mark Steele. Reviewed at San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, June 20, 2008. Running time: 77 MIN.

With

Jesse Rosen, Rachel Castillo, Jared Grey, Johnny Ray Rodriguez, Jesse Janzen, Tyler Jenich, Bryan McGowan, Peter Scherer, Anne Reeder, Emilia Richeson, Jennifer Z. Mosely.

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