Film Review: My Awkward Sexual AdventureWith its borderline NC-17 sex and not a little wit, this indie rom-com from Canada puts a refreshing new spin on the boy meets bad-girl trope.
In a cinematic age in which Judd Apatow, the Farrellys and the Hangover franchise have to keep push limits to pleasurably shock their audiences, this low-budget potential sleeper goes at its sexually charged shenanigans from a different angle. With its matter-of-fact attitude toward all things carnal and kinky, it isn’t out to shock anyone. This movie is going for relatable—and for the most part it succeeds, thanks to a handful of characters who are consistently engaging, even at their most unattractive moments. They’re essentially comic confections, but they’ve got their quirks and ragged edges. And as played by a cast of relative unknowns, they have personality to spare.
Jonas Chernick, who wrote the screenplay, stars as Jordan, a nebbishy neat-freak Winnipeg accountant whose utterly inept lovemaking so bores his frustrated girlfriend, Rachel (Sarah Manninen), that she’s generally fast asleep before he can finish. Jordan is so oblivious to his own shortcomings that he’s absolutely floored when Rachel reacts to his surprise marriage proposal by all-but-literally kicking him to the curb.
Bags already packed for the Niagara Falls vacation he and Rachel won’t be taking, Jordan instead jets to Toronto, where his slickster best-friend Dandak (Vik Sahay) appoints himself his “sexual mentor,” vowing to show Jordan how to score. At this point, most seasoned moviegoers will think they have a pretty good idea where the plot is headed. They’d only be partially right.
In the hands of a major studio, Dandak’s self-mandated mission would serve as the set-up for a broad bromance in which our romantically challenged hero encounters a series of outrageously raunchy humiliations. But this movie doesn’t let Jordan go there. Oh, he still has his comic mishaps. But after one unanimous group rejection at a party full of hot babes, all his sexual adventures are with the same woman.
Her name is Julia (Emily Hampshire). Jordan first bumps into her at the strip club where she performs. Later that night, she happens upon him dead drunk in the alley just outside her workplace. We can tell that she’s a good-hearted soul when she hoists him up and drags him into a cab. Somehow, she winds up in the cab with him. The next morning, he finds himself waking up on her couch. So far, not so different from your classic Hollywood meet-cute. But while these characters never quite transcend their screen types, this relationship evolves nicely in some unconventional ways.
It starts out as a strictly quid pro quo arrangement: Taking pity on Jordan’s pathetic cluelessness, Julia agrees to give the poor guy lessons in getting it on, in exchange for his expert help in salvaging her hopeless finances. It’s the beginning of an improbable friendship that you know is going to lead to something more. No surprise here. And yet the two leads make it all work with some winning chemistry.
But let’s be honest: Those lessons in getting it on are where the biggest laughs are, whether Jordan is malapropping his way through Julia’s talk-dirty tutorial (“You’re a guy…why are you moist?” she asks), or haplessly misfiring in a massage parlor, or practicing his oral sex technique on a cantaloupe. Okay, so that ripe, pulpy melon serves much the same purpose as a certain apple pie. But this scene is wittier, sexier and, for lack of a better word, classier. Chernick and Hampshire play it straight, just as director Sean Garrity shot and cut it.
You could say the same for most of the sex-based scenes in this film. Yes, they are unblinking and unabashed, if not quite full frontal. But what makes them fresh, rather than pornographic, is how unchoreographed they look—how spontaneous and clumsy they feel. And what makes them so entertaining is the steady stream of truly funny dialogue that runs throughout the movie. With echoes of Woody Allen, Candace Bushnell and even Philip Roth (of Portnoy’s Complaint vintage), Chernick the screenwriter keeps the punch lines natural, unforced and appropriate to the moment. And Gerrity and his cast know just how to deliver them. They never feel the need to italicize—quite the opposite, actually. A lot of these lines are throwaways, but they always find their marks.
Chernick adds some welcome nuances to his socially gawky geek role, but it’s how he brings out Jordan’s vulnerability that convinces us a stripper would go for him. Hampshire’s Julia, meanwhile, is the real spark in this movie, with great dark eyes, a wide-screen smile and a slightly disheveled girl-next-door appeal that belies her drawer full of sex toys. She also makes the most of what is more than her share of the screenplay’s funniest dialogue. She’s a real comedienne, and a refined one at that.
The two leads are complemented by the well-chosen supporting cast, especially the hammy-in-a-good-way Sahay, whose smooth operator Dandak transforms overnight into a moony, lovesick puppy after one parents-arranged date with a girl from “a very affluent Hindu family.” In a more subtle way, Manninen’s Rachel embodies what’s really different about this film. The character would have worked just fine as the bitchy ex who breaks hearts and doesn’t look back, but Chernick has made her more than that, and Manninen is up to the task, infusing Rachel with undercurrents of real emotion. In her relatively few post-breakup scenes, in which Rachel tries to have as many different kinds of sex as she can, only to feel more and more lost without Jordan, we actually feel a twitch of sympathy for her. She has shown us something we can all relate to: Call it desperation, or even fear. In the end, she’s as vulnerable as Jordan is, and a lot more sad. She gives you something to think about in a movie that you thought just wanted to make you laugh.