Air Sex in the Name of Love
Bryan Poyser's 'The Bounceback' strives to strike a balance between comedy and emotion
When it comes to taking risks that might make audiences uncomfortable, there are movies that play it safe and movies that take chances. Then there are movies that center a great deal of the plot on forcing the audience to watch several of your protagonists pretend to hump the air in multiple, extended sequences. The Bounceback is the latter sort of film.
But for a movie in which the characters spend a good deal of time simulating sex with invisible partners, The Bounceback also has a surprising amount of heart, which director Bryan Poyser says was the balance he worked hard to strike. "It's really about all of the dumb things that you do when you're in your 20s, in pursuit of finding the right person for you," he explains.
Those dumb things sometimes include getting involved in performance art events like Air Sex, planning impromptu cross-country trips in the hope of running into someone you broke up with months ago, living in squalid group apartments with loser friends, and engaging in a string of regrettable one-night stands – all of which are poor decisions that the characters make in The Bounceback. For Poyser, the key is making sure that that the dumb things his characters do are dumb things that an audience can relate to. That meant carefully balancing dumb gross-out humor and dumbness committed as a part of the quest for true love.
"I wanted all of the characters to be likeable," he says. "In the early screenings, there was a lot more Air Sex in there, but people felt it kinda pulled away from the emotional turmoil. There's a lot more Air Sex on the cutting room floor, but it was a balance between it being in there enough for people to recognize that it was a real thing, and for them to dread the idea that it was a real thing." It is a real thing – Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League owns the trademark, which he licensed to Poyser for a dime – and Zach Cregger, The Whitest Kids U'Know alum whose character does the lion's share of the air-humping in the film, almost declined the part because of it.
"I didn't like the idea of Air Sex," Cregger says. "If I'd had my druthers when we went into production, I'd have removed the Air Sex from the movie. I thought it was schticky and crass. But then Bryan was really great at using it the right amount. Air Sex is in the movie, but it's not an Air Sex movie. It's just a movie where one of the characters happens to do this. When I sat down to watch the final cut, I was so pleasantly surprised across the board. He made the Air Sex work; you understand why this character would do this."
Exploring the richer themes of the film – the emotional inertia following a failed relationship, what it's like to watch a close friend spiral downward – through such an unlikely device seems to be something that Poyser delights in. "I don't know why it works," he says. "So far, it seems to be working – people are on board with the comedy, and they're laughing, and they're on board with the emotional through-line of it."
Finding that through-line seems like it was easy enough for Poyser: Mostly, it seems, it just involved remembering what it's like to make absurd choices as part of the pursuit of happiness. "I did a lot of those things," he laughs, and getting back to that frame of mind helped him balance the laughs with honesty.
"That's the thing about being in your 20s," Poyser says. "The pursuit of love and relationships is really the most important thing in your life. It really is. There's this hanging question over your head of, 'Will I ever find someone who really loves me, who I really love?' For me, that was definitely a huge part of making it through my 20s. A lot of the movie was just trying to get back to that state of mind, so the emotional points would be impactful and seem earned and not be out of line with all of the craziness that goes along with it."
Narrative Spotlight, World Premiere
Saturday, March 9, 2pm, Paramount
Sunday, March 10, 9:45pm, Alamo Slaughter
Friday, March 15, 9:15pm, Stateside
Saturday, March 16, 4pm, Rollins