So, a gay guy and a straight girl walk into a bedroom to conceive a baby the old-fashioned way ...
That’s the basic set-up of “Gayby,” Jonathan Lisecki’s irreverent indie offering, which screens at the Wheeler Opera House on Monday Jan. 14 at 8:15 p.m. at Aspen Gay Ski Week’s Film Gala.
Lisecki based the movie on his plan to father a child with a straight college friend. They never went through with it, but the comic possibilities are writ large in this unconventional romantic comedy starring Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas. Lisecki and Gay Ski Week producers hope it brings out the festival’s queer revelers along with a general audience of locals and tourists. The screening also will include a question-and-answer session between Lisecki and Gay Ski Week’s Bob King.
“It truly is a film about friendship between a straight woman and a gay man,” Lisecki says. “I’m glad that came across and all audiences seem to like it. ... I do have a teensy bit more fun with a gay audience, but I’m also thrilled that’s not the only place my film is playing.”
Lisecki made a short film version of “Gayby” in 2009, also with Harris and Wilkas in the leads. He toured with it on the film festival circuit, screening it at more than 100 festivals and picking up many awards. He says he had a larger story in mind at the time. Making the feature film version became a reality when producers started coming to him with money to back a larger version of it.
The film premiered this year at South By Southwest in Austin. Its success there reassured Lisecki that “Gayby” was more than a niche LGBT movie.
“South By Southwest is one of the youngest, hippest and — dare I say — most heterosexual festivals in the country,” he says. “And the fact that they played my movie is kind of awesome. It means it’s not the kind of movie that only gay people can enjoy, it’s larger-themed than that.”
Through 2012, the feature was a hit on the indie and festival circuit, even picking up Lisecki a coveted — and well-deserved — Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Screenplay.
The movie also takes on gay stereotypes — like a running joke about Wilkas’ shirtless photos online and Lisecki himself as an aspiring “bear” fetishist — but “Gayby” handles them with a witty and unexpected deftness, avoiding cartoonish stock characters.
“It was important to me that if I was going to have the type of character that has been stereotyped so much that I would put them in a way that they’re not usually allowed to be,” Lisecki says.
The supporting cast includes a sort of Greek chorus of gay friends, who offer some of the film’s most biting and memorable moments. Lisecki’s experience as a gay actor auditioning for roles as broadly drawn, dumbed-down queer caricatures motivated him to write these smart and snarky parts.
“When I went on auditions I always had to go out for the same gay best friend or assistant role, who existed only to tell a straight girl she looked good in an outfit and snap his fingers and say, ‘You go girl!’ or whatever,” he recalls. “So in my movie I said, ‘Everybody is going to have their own gay best friend and they’re all going to be smarter and they’re going to have their own sexuality. They’re going to be fast-spoken but never dumb.’”
Lisecki’s film makes hilarious, incisive use of some previously untapped material, with sub-plots taking on the hot yoga trend and comic book culture along with the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of gay dating. A rapid-fire cat fight between Lisecki’s character and a rival gay yoga instructor is among the film’s best moments.
“I do think Bikram yoga is a little hilarious, though I’ve done it, and the reason I picked the comic book store is I love the guys in my comic book store and I see comic book people often portrayed as, like, nerdy, ugly mean guys, who are overweight,” he says. “And none of the guys who work in my comic book store are like that at all. They’re nice. One of them’s really cute.”
While it’s drawn favorable comparisons to “Sex and the City” and “Will and Grace” — shows Lisecki says he’s never watched regularly — the film would be more appropriately shelved alongside Woody Allen’s sex comedies. Gay festival crowds, he adds, tend to give the film a more spirited response, which he looks forward to this week.
A screening at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, for instance, drew a rowdy crowd of 1,400, which gave a minute-long ovation to the snarky line, “We don’t like straight guys, we have self-esteem today.”
“That doesn’t happen with a straight audience,” laughs Lisecki of the hooting and hollering response, “because it’s something that gay people have all told their friends, like, ‘Stop getting crushes on straight people, its annoying.’”