This film has a very different setup than most films. The stars of the film, Kristen Abate and Steven Tanenbaum are also the directors and writers of the film. It’s almost like this film is autobiographical and that presents quite the challenge.
“Straighten Up and Fly Right” is a popular song by Nat King Cole, and it lends its name to the film. It has great relevance to the overall story. Kristen and Steven both have disabilities and that is a major plot point in the film. It’s hard for Kristen’s character to overcome that. She feels like she’s a burden on society and everybody looks down on her because of her disability. She has a back problem that makes her slump over, which in turn makes her look down all the time. This causes her a lot of problems, the least of which is that she can’t bend down and pick things up.
Kristen is a dog walker by day. This helps her pay the bills when she’s not spending all her money on marijuana and sex. Even a disabled woman needs some kind of companionship. That’s where Steven comes in: he offers her a job walking his dogs and a place to stay. He has found a kinship with Kristen, but she doesn’t always think this is a good relationship. She has also found another man she’s attracted to while walking dogs (AJ Cedeno).
The two filmmakers know this material because it’s about them. The self-deprecation is very interesting. The fact they make these characters look so bad in various moments is a testament to the script. The background of the city, which if you didn’t know it was New York, was shown in a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup in the form of two New York football logos. The city is a character in the film.
They even have some interesting supporting characters that play a role in Kristen’s journey. A little girl on the street (Mehret Marsh) as Kristen passes by frequently causes her much anxiety. She confides in her weed dealer (Lawrence Jensen) and he comforts her. The film has a handful of interesting characters that help move the story forward. That’s a mark of a good film. A film with plenty of characters the viewer can get behind.
These types of slice-of-life type stories can be interesting and sometimes they can be a bit boring. This one had a few things going for it that are selling points: the two main stars who are also the writers and directors of the film. This is a rarity in the movie business. It has an interesting story in it that’s engaging and fascinating. Kristen’s life though depressing at times is a bit relatable despite her disability. I felt something for her and her life. This film got me on that level.
Straighten Up and Fly Right is screening at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival, which runs virtually January 27-February 6.
Dan Skip Allen
Founder/EIC disappointment media