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With: Daniel Letterle, Diego Serrano, David Monahan, Joel Brooks, Richard Riehle, Meredith Baxter, Dean Shelton, Shanola Hampton, Rebecca Lowman
Written by: David Vernon
Directed by: George Bamber
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content and language
Running Time: 88
Date: 04/29/2005

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Fabulously 'Unfabulous'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Many commentators fell into a state of bliss last fall writing about the high quality of gay-themed films appearing in multiplexes and on award lists. The general gist was that these safe, serious portrayals would "send a message" and conceivably change the minds of the glowering opposition. No one, of course, included Val Kilmer's portrayal of "Gay Perry" in Shane Black's enjoyable, underrated Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, but maybe they should have. After all, wouldn't he be the most fun at a backyard barbeque? Wouldn't he be a better candidate for a cool, gay poster boy?

The hero of the new romantic comedy The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green -- recently seen in the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival -- may be another. No, he doesn't have anything terribly important, or even original to say, but he's funny, flighty and adorable, sort of like a gay Holly Golightly.

Daniel Letterle, a veteran of Todd Graff's overblown comedy Camp (2003), stars as the title character, a Los Angeles playboy with a long track record of short-term boyfriends. Ethan's greatest crime is his failure to commit. His current beau is Kyle (Diego Serrano) a chiseled former ballplayer; Ethan hopes that Kyle will ask him to move in together. However, when the big moment comes during a dinner date, Ethan blandly refuses, much to the shock and surprise of everyone else in the restaurant. (Even the chef shakes his head in dismay.)

In the aftermath Ethan begins to wonder how and why he made this mistake. But other pressing issues arise. Another ex-boyfriend, Leo (David Monahan) has decided to sell the house in which Ethan currently resides with his black, lesbian roommate (Shanola Hampton). With the aid of the precocious 19 year-old Punch (Dean Shelton), the roommates hire the worst real estate agent in the city, Sunny Deal (Rebecca Lowman). A wreck of a girl, Sunny either screeches or scowls at potential buyers.

Like a big screen "Ally McBeal," the film crosses surreal, dreamlike imagery with more truthful, emotional moments. Ethan's mother, Harper (Meredith Baxter, of "Family Ties" fame), appears to him from a television screen and still lives with one of Ethan's long-abandoned boyfriends. The usual "rushing to stop a wedding" climax comes with a character groaning about that old romantic comedy chestnut, as well as a faintly unexpected and even touching, conclusion.

As icing on this confection, the highly recognizable veteran character actors Joel Brooks ("Six Feet Under") and Richard Riehle (Office Space) co-star as the Hat Sisters, an avuncular couple with a fashion sense out of a home furnishings catalog and a wry commentary on life, as well as an enviable romantic stability.

George Bamber, an assistant director on films ranging from Men in Black II (2002) to Dodgeball (2004) makes his directorial debut here, turning in a speedy, yet steady picture, brimming with snappy jokes and a good Los Angeles feel. Adapting Eric Orner's comic strip, David Vernon wrote the screenplay -- his first -- and he avoids the usual gay romantic comedy conventions, such as the uptight lover afraid to come out of the closet. If anything, his Ethan is a bit too vain, but Letterle's appealing performance paints him as gratifyingly unsure and scattered, bringing him closer to human.

But the best thing about The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green is how unselfconscious it is; most gay-themed films wear their gayness either as a flag or an apology, explaining their existence through nervous, awkward dialogue. The characters here do not apologize, nor do they make a big thing about their orientation. The film is concerned with love and relationships in general, and not any particular kind.

Though its story offers nothing really new and critics so far have greeted the film with mild annoyance and unconcerned shrugs, its attitude counts as a major breakthrough. Indeed, it can count itself among the best gay-themed romantic comedy since Rose Troche's Bedrooms & Hallways (1999).

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