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C. Jay Cox
Mostly the uninteresting everything of Ethan Green...
In THE MOSTLY UNFABULOUS SOCIAL LIFE OF ETHAN GREEN, there is one great laugh: As two of the characters argue with each other in a bookstore, all the shelves are packed tight, except the one marked "Lesbian Humor," which only has one volume. Okay, it's not a great laugh, but it is a nice little chuckle. And the viewers should be grateful for that, because otherwise as a romantic comedy ETHAN GREEN is pretty skimpy with both the romance and the comedy.
Based on a cult gay comic strip of the same name, ETHAN GREEN seems to be trying to say something socially relevant about contemporary gay relationships. And while the film isn't wanting in imagination or even inspiration, it regrettably reflects its comic strip source by being strangely flat and two dimensional. The jokes are there, but like Eric Orner's artwork in the original comics, they are drawn with little style or depth or skill.
Ethan is an unlucky-in-love, self-proclaimed "serial monogamist." At 26, an age when most men -- whether gay or straight -- are searching for anything other than a lifetime romantic/sexual commitment, Ethan is going through a mid-life crisis worrying about his biological clock and a fear of dying an old maid. Despite his almost desperate desire to find his soulmate, the has an equally desperate need to find something wrong with every potential Mr. Right. Both things seem to preoccupy his every waking thought, but then again, Ethan doesn't seem to have anything else going on his life, such as a job. And even his strangely anonymous suburban home is devoid of evidence of his existence, without so much as a MOULIN ROUGE! movie poster or a Streisand album in sight to indicate a gay man is on the premises.
As played by Daniel Letterle with an almost-campy almost-swishiness, Ethan is clearly a gay stereotype, yet he remains curiously devoid of a personality. Surrounded by non-stereotypical characters, who nonetheless have obvious personality quirks that define them, Ethan is arguably the least interesting character in the story. His lovers, past and present, include a hot Latino boytoy (to whom Ethan's mother plays fag hag); a nerdy bookstore owner; a fresh-out-of-the-closet professional jock; and a 19-year-old sexually adventurous twink, all of whom are hung up on Ethan to some degree -- though God knows why. There is also a gay Republican, which the story treats as a perpetual joke, (and the less said about The Hat Sisters, a pair of burly aging transvestites, the better). We are supposed to wonder which of these guys Ethan will ultimately pick, though we also might rightly wonder which one will ultimately get stuck with Ethan. Ethan's focus seems to be on avoiding the wrong choice and not making the right one, a subtle, but telling difference.
The strangest thing about the film is that Ethan is this unfunny dead weight at the center of everything. Virtually everybody else is almost joyously upbeat; like Meredith Baxter as Ethan's mom, whose acceptance of her son's homosexuality has inspired her to be a wedding planner for civil unions. Even Rebecca Lowman as Sunny Deal, a chronically depressed lesbian real estate agent, manages to make her character's suicidal depression amusing. And an especially bright light in the film is Dean Shelton as Punch Epstein, the twink who is still high on being out and sees gay sex as a game with few rules and endless possibilities. If someone in the film has to be deemed "fabulous," Shelton's performance earns him the right. (It's just a pity the film isn't THE MOSTLY FABULOUS SEXUAL LIFE OF PUNCH EPSTEIN.)
It is not just that Ethan is such a sadsack -- the whole point being that his pessimism is an island in a sea of optimism. But Letterle, who made such a winning impression in CAMP, brings no charisma to Ethan and thus, no focus. And I don't think it is entirely Letterle's fault, since he seems to be playing the part as written. For instance, when Ethan decides at the last minute to break up a wedding, he stops midpoint to browse a catalogue and place a phone order. Funny? Yeah, sorta. But at what cost to the story? Despite a few discreetly suggestive sex scenes, there is no passion, let alone urgency, to the story or between any of the characters. For a movie filmed in less than two weeks, ETHAN GREEN is surprisingly well made technically, but first-time director George Bamber can't conjure up any eagerness to please. Likewise, in the end Ethan doesn't seem to find Mr. Right so much as Mr. Alright. If neither Ethan nor the film are fabulous, it is because neither have made the effort.
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