Straighten Up And Fly Right: Review

Straighten Up And Fly Right:

“Hello world, how do you plan on fucking with me today?” With that line, delivered within the opening ten minutes of Straighten Up and Fly Right, we are instantly drawn into the character and world of Kristen (Kristen Abate).  Kristen suffers from Ankylosing Spondylitiswhich severely reduces her mobility, gives her a hunched posture, and causes her pain and psychical distress.  She lives alone and is estranged from the world around her.

Her drug dealer is one of her few points of social contact.  She not only buys drugs from him; she also pays him for sex.  She is served an eviction notice.  People in the street stare at her as she earns a living walking dogs.  As if the stares were not degrading enough, her condition makes the picking up of dog poop an unusually straining exertion.  In short, her life is quite dispiriting. 

And then one day Kristen is contacted by a man in need of her dog-walking services.  When he opens the door, Kristen notices that the man has her same condition.  Steven (Steven Tanenbaum) understands Kristen’s frustrations; he himself has experienced many of them. Steven allows Kristen to stay with him.

And, slowly but surely, he starts drawing Kristen out of her isolation.  Steven encourages Kristen to meet his friends—a group of artistic types who are very welcoming—and to continue developing her writing.  Her sense of community and her own confidence coalesce when she reads a piece of spoken word poetry for Steven’s friends.  Kristen’s love life; however, that is different story.  

Straighten Up and Fly Right works on several levels.  The touches of cinema verité as Kristen walks dogs along New York City’s streets are done masterfully.  Kristen’s narration on everything from the behavior of birds to her genealogical history of how disabled people have been perceived is very insightful.  And then of course there are the scenes that focus on Kristen’s body.

We become aware of the difficulty involved in everything from showering to picking something up from the ground.  Abate and Tanenbaum pull off an outstanding feat:  their acting performances are superb as is their co-direction of the film.  The only place wherein Straighten Up and Fly Right falters is in its ending.  It feels too tidy.  That is a shame because for most of its runtime the film is smart, snappy, and willing to dwell within a world that is far from neat. 

There are some very poignant insights offered by Abate’s character.  Disabled folks can feel people’s stares.  Dogs, on the other hand, “are punk rock,” according to Abate.  They will take a poop in front of anyone, and they do not care who stares.  This is perhaps a call for us to care less about stares but also to stare less at others.

Maybe we would all stare less if we realized that the disabled are just like us; or better said, we are all “disabled.”  As we age, we come closer and closer to the day when we will also be disabled.  Maybe we should see disability as less of a condition and more of as a stage of life we all enter—some of us sooner, some us later, but all of us eventually.     

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A Cuban-American obsessed with documentaries and anything by Kubrick, Haneke, Breillat, or McQueen. If he is not watching films in his hometown of Miami, he is likely travelling somewhere in Asia enjoying okonomiyaki or pho.


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