Directed by George Bamber
Screenplay by David Vernon
Starring Daniel Letterle, with Shanola Hampton, David Monahan, Dean Shelton, Diego Serrano, Scott Atkinson, Joel Brooks, Richard Riehle, Rebecca Lowman, Ramon de Ocampo and Meredith Baxter
Rated R; 88 minutes
Armed with enough offhand humor and convenient coincidences to power an entire sitcom season, The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green is a frothy, frenetic tale of the trials and travails of the cute but clueless gay boy of the title. Ethan and his family, friends and assorted boyfriends and exes are companionable company for an 88-minute film, even though it also carries the vices of a TV situation comedy (cardboard characters, manufactured moments of uplift and an unfocused, often repetitive plot).
This last problem is probably related to Ethan’s source material, Eric Orner’s comic strip — a form that demands a certain level of repetition and has the luxury to revisit familiar ground due to its time-lagged storytelling. After all, no one ever complained that Charles Schulz was re-using the same gag when Lucy pulled the football away from Charlie Brown year after year, because in its original run, months had gone by since the last version of this particular perennial. But in adapting the strip to the linear, time-limited format of a feature film, David Vernon’s screenplay could have benefited from a bit of — dare I say it — straightening out.
Don’t get me wrong — there’s plenty to cheer in this gay romantic comedy of incidental pleasures, among them a young, cute and talented but uneven cast. As Ethan, Daniel Letterle (the 95% straight object of desire in the fagalicious film Camp) is the conflicted, immature and somewhat bland hub to a bunch of twisted spokes. It’s hard to tell if Letterle’s somewhat passive performance is a function of his limitations as an actor or the nature of the character, who can be counted on to misread the signals and make the wrong decisions when it comes to his busy but frustrating love life. But Letterle himself is adorable, if less than creative at finding ways to play a character that the plot’s conventions set up to fail repeatedly.
Director George Bamber has been luckier with the rest of the cast, who happily embody a range of homosexual types and even occasionally flare from two dimensions into three. Standouts include Dean Shelton’s Punch Epstein, a motor-mouthed twink party boy reveling in his youth and cuteness; Diego Serrano’s Kyle, a hunky, newly out-of-the-closet baseball player who Ethan dates for a while; Scott Atkinson’s Chester Baer, an overbearing Log Cabin Republican appropriating a United Nations of wedding traditions for his commitment ceremony; David Monahan’s Leo, Chester’s husband-to-be and another Ethan ex who makes the most of his relatively sane character; Shanola Hampton’s Charlotte, Ethan’s tart-tongued lesbian roommate; and Rebecca Lowman’s Sunny Deal, the depressed, chain-smoking real estate agent who is re-energized by her relationship with Charlotte.
Moving from Gen X to the Baby Boomers, Joel Brooks and Richard Riehle (the “jumping to conclusions” guy from Office Space) are the perpetually dragged-up Hat Sisters, a long-term couple whose hobbies include sneaking into Republican headquarters to make George W. Bush’s voice-mail message more gay-friendly (if only). And rescued from Lifetime is Meredith Baxter as Ethan’s mother, running a gay wedding planning service and dispensing blunt advice and dollops of comfort to her self-destructive son. Advising him that a 26-year-old gay man should hear the clock ticking on his vanishing youth, she cautions Ethan “After all, you don’t want to be a troll living in a basement apartment and paying for rough trade.” Hearing this comment in the bright, silvery voice of Alex P. Keaton’s mom gave the audience at the 18th New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Film Festival, where Ethan was screened, a little turbocharge to their laughter.
First-time director Bamber should get credit for this wacky ensemble’s successes, and for finding creative visuals within the limitations of shooting on video (an animated sequence by strip author Eric Orner showing why Sunny Deal became the world’s worst real estate agent is a quick highlight). Like its hero, Ethan has its ups and downs, but its refusal to take itself too seriously helps me forgive its rough spots.