No, Straight-Jacket is not the 1965 Joan Crawford vehicle, in which she was cast as a suspected axe murderer, returning from the asylum. Would that it were, for at least that film had the campy fun and irresistible gay appeal, however unintentional, that this one sorely lacks.
Straight-Jacket is a '50s Hollywood fairy tale about Guy Stone (Matt Letscher), closeted homosexual, Rock Hudson-ish movie star, who, in an effort to win the big role of Ben Hur, is forced by his studio to marry lovestruck secretary Sally (Carrie Preston), although he is madly in love with screenwriter Rick (Adam Greer). Guy and Rick are really like oil and water, as Guy is your typical egotistical, shallow matinee idol, while Rick is a dead-serious, out gay artiste, with serious, dangerous Communist leanings.
Richard Day directed this adaptation of his off-Broadway play, which definitely proved more diverting onstage. The splashy artifice of the theatre, snappy direction, and Day's admitted facility with funny one-liners ("My wedding night was a disaster-she was a total bottom!") aptly created a stylized period world, but, on film, things play as flatly as any failed soufflé. Day, who also directed the also over-the-top (but better) Girls Will Be Girls, has used computer graphics to suggest the lavish locales, such as Guy's mansion, that his limited budget obviously can't afford. It's a clever idea, which would have worked better if the rest of his film didn't look so downright cheesy. I have never seen such bad actual sets (which still look digital) or makeup or wigs in any film, factors that only point up physical deficiencies and obvious cosmetic surgical enhancements disconcertingly, in a milieu in which prettiness supposedly counts most. Playing a high-powered agent, Veronica Cartwright is particularly ill-served here. A real Hollywood veteran, from her childhood days in The Birds and "The Twilight Zone" to vivid adult appearances in Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Witches of Eastwick, she is forced to push for laughs and, at one point, is seen on a toilet for a particularly cheap yuck.
Letscher, who campily shrieks too much, and the unphotogenic Greer have little real chemistry between them, making the film's later more serious portions, in which they spout lines like "I'd give up writing in a second, if it meant hiding who I was to coddle the bigotries of people who hate me" that much harder to take. Preston gives a monotonous ding-a-ling performance, not helped by Day's unfunny recurring joke of having the Heimlich maneuver repeatedly performed upon her, as she spews stuff across the screen. Michael Emerson provides some momentary levity as a very dry butler, sorrowing over his tragic World War II love affair with a soldier ("It wasn't meant to be." "Did he die?" "No, he got fat").
-David Noh