the last straight man

The Last Straight Man

TLA Releasing,

Mark Bessenger

Mark Cirillo
Scott Sell

Unrated, 110 minutes

Friends With Benefits
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online March
, 2015

What gay man, especially in his youth, hasn’t been in love with his best friend? Or just wished he could have sex with him - at least once? Writer/director Mark Bessenger’s The Last Straight Man (2014) is an uneven but often fascinating look at two best friends - one gay and one straight - who meet every year, on the same day in the same hotel room, for a one night stand that lasts for 12 years.

I did not have high hopes when the film began. The first shot was a close-up of large breasts jiggling into the camera. We are at a bachelor party and a bored looking young man feigns interest while sitting apart from the others - even turning down a lap dance from the hired stripper. His name is Lewis (Mark Cirillo) and he has rented a hotel room and thrown this bachelor party for Cooper (Scott Sell), his best friend since Junior High. The stag party scene, thankfully, doesn’t last very long and then we are left with the two best friends alone, drunk, and toasting each other with a lot of shots of Tequila.

Much teasing and horseplay happens before the inevitable main event. Cooper initiates a game of “Three Questions” where no subject is off limits and no lying is allowed. The sexual tension kicks into high gear when Lewis tells Cooper about a threeway with a straight couple and then confesses that he is bi-sexual (later he will identify as exclusively gay). Then Cooper wants to watch some porn and he is clearly turned on by Lewis’ “secret stash” of man-on-man action. Both men are very drunk. We know where this is going, don’t we?

Luckily for Lewis, gay panic doesn’t set in and they are still friends the next morning. Cooper even tells Lewis that he loves him. He also makes it clear that this can never happen again and then leaves to get married. This vow is not kept. Flash forward four years and they are meeting again in the same hotel room. Cooper is still married but he tells Lewis that “for one day of the year, we get to hit the pause button.” Each time they meet again, the dynamics between them will get more complicated. Lewis becomes more disillusioned by the deception while a confused Cooper confesses his fear that his wife might not be his “soulmate.” They say that drama needs conflict and this film has a lot of it.

Let's get this part out of the way first. It goes without saying that a story about such an illicit affair should be red hot and sexy, and The Last Straight Man delivers the goods. The film is quite explicit without crossing over into porn. There is abundant nudity, sometimes full frontal. Both men, especially Cooper, are very sexy and there are genuine sparks between them. Both actors are also believable as longtime best friends. Their best scenes seem spontaneous, many captured in long, uninterrupted camera takes and their acting chemistry is unquestioned.

There is a terrific moment when Cooper lets Lewis fuck him for the first time and the scene's impact is heightened because it’s mostly captured in one take. Long before James Franco said the same thing in Interior: Leather Bar, I’ve always written that sex can be a storytelling tool while also providing character development. The expression on Cooper’s face, emphasized in close-up during the long take, conveys everything you need to know about he feels. The sex scenes are hot but some of them are also dramatic.

Of course, it isn’t all sex and reality does intrude on their little fantasy world. We are always aware that what they are doing might be exciting but it is also ultimately wrong. Cooper is cheating on his wife and he does so on the night before their Anniversary each year (our boys refer to their yearly trysts as “Anniversaries” too) and Lewis is the “other woman.” A lot of their behavior is questionable. Cooper tests out the video camera that he bought to film the birth of his son by making a sex tape with Lewis. Then he ignores his phone and discovers later, when he finally answers it, that his wife went into premature labor while he was letting his best friend fuck him.

Let’s face it, these guys are jerks. But yet you like them in spite of this and want them to have their yearly fun. You wish that they could just “push the pause button.” But things are complicated. Connor clearly loves Lewis as much as his wife – perhaps even more so – but he resists indentifying as anything but straight. He refuses to kiss, like many “straight” guys, because it is “too intimate” but he also confesses that he doesn’t like to kiss his wife either. Lewis obviously wants more but is settling for what he can get. Still, their erotic play gets more playful and more adventurous as the years pass. The “Three Questions” game will recur each time they meet and the confessions become more and more painful. Some of it is heavy but it’s not all drama - especially when it starts to seem like they’ve turned into a bickering, old married couple.

Much of the film is funny (Cooper answers their first sex question by saying that the dog licked his balls once). There is great visual humor (and suspense) in another striking long take: Cooper goes down on Lewis against the wall, while through the open doorway next to them we watch a maid clean the other room in their hotel suite. The humor keeps things from getting maudlin or too serious. The film’s best line: when Cooper confesses that his wife is not his “other half” and that she doesn’t “complete him,” Lewis asks, “Has the Lifetime Channel gone Clockwork Orange on your ass?”

The camerawork preserves the film’s intense intimacy. While dialogue-driven, the story is also told through its visuals. We watch the passage of time through Lewis and Cooper’s beards. They are clean shaven on their first night together. The next time we see them, Cooper has a groomed stubble beard and Lewis sports a goatee. Later they will both wear full beards. Haircuts are subtly different and Cooper’s chest hair gets thicker as the years pass. In the final episode, Lewis also takes Viagra.

I liked most of The Last Straight Man. As stated earlier, the two actors convinced me that they were longtime best friends. This is the film’s biggest strength; their camaraderie. (Otherwise, the film might have been insufferable). Did I buy everything that happens between them? No, but when I did I was completely sucked into this movie and forgot the scenes that I couldn’t swallow. I found it hard to believe that, during their first tryst, Cooper would go down on Lewis first when he’s never done it with a dude before. Both men should also have been unconscious from all those shots of Tequila. I was very moved by the ending of their last hotel room scene together, and then found the film’s last minutes to be incoherent. The family snapshot interludes between the hotel scenes are banal and belonged in a Lifetime TV Movie. I hate the title. And yes, similar stories have been filmed before.

But, these quibbles aside, The Last Straight Man engaged me a lot more than I expected it to. Nothing is black and white and I liked that. Its strengths made me forgive its flaws. The Last Straight Man is sexy, touching, funny and sad. It has a lot to say about sexuality, labels, friendship and commitment. It is, above all, a terrific portrait of two very confused best friends and it succeeds on most levels. And – if this is all you want to watch it for - it’s very erotic.

Scott Sell also appears in:
Out To Kill

Mark Cirillo also appears in:
The Men Next Door