Love & Sex
Not rated, 90 min. Directed by Valerie Breiman. Starring Famke Janssen, Jon Favreau, Noah Emmerich, Cheri Oteri, Ann Magnuson.
Breaking up may be hard to do, but it can also be fodder for cinematic genius (Woody Allen’s classic Annie Hall springs to mind). Culling from the same material as Annie Hall and Stephen Frears’ more recent High Fidelity, Love & Sex follows a newly broken-hearted woman who thinks rehashing her past will explain her most recent romantic debacle. In this case, the done-wrong-by-love is Kate (Janssen), a journalist who’s been freshly dumped by her artist boyfriend (Favreau). Trying to make sense of their breakup, Kate re-examines her old lovers: mostly a litany of losers (none of whom, in the real world, could ever land a looker like Famke Janssen). Love & Sex takes a major cue from its title; it restricts its focus to love and sex and not a damn thing else. The fastest way to sour on someone is overexposure, and the same can be said for too much talk about love. The film does get points for bucking the “he said” tendency, offering instead only the “she said” take on things. But the take itself isn’t particularly fresh – no new insights here. It’s probably too much to ask that Love & Sex revolutionize our outlook on modern love, but at least writer-director Valerie Breiman could have compensated for the lack of inventiveness with a standout script. High Fidelity, for example, employed the same structure and delved into the same thoroughly worn territory, but tempered it with clever and compelling secondary interests (music, aging, etc.) and saved it with some really great writing. But Breiman is too single-minded, and her script is a jarringly uneven product, teetering between crude humor and an earnest sentimentality. Love & Sex works best when at its most sincere, and there are some nice scenes of real pathos when Kate and Adam are still flush with new love, as well as a few moments when their relationship begins to fall apart. But the script negates anything heartfelt with its flippant, almost vulgar tone. There’s a coarseness here that just doesn’t jibe right with the romantic comedy genre. Sure, it’s necessary to update things, but modernity doesn’t have to mean rough language and throwaway dildo jokes. The old screwball romantic comedies of Howard Hawks and George Cukor were edgy in their own right, and accomplished such with a level of class and romanticism that’s woefully lacking in today’s additions to the canon. Maybe the dirtying-down of romantic comedy is simply a sign of the times, in which old-fashioned wooing seems to have gone the way of pop rocks and parachute pants (that is, obsoleteness), traded in for a more glib kind of love. I’m not yet willing to concede the death of the romantic comedy, but it definitely needs to find a place somewhere in between the latest Meg Ryan sapfest and this new breed of coarseness (Whipped being the most offensive of recent misfires). Love & Sex wavers somewhere in between, and try as it might to win hearts and laughs, it just doesn’t stick. I’m banking on some better fish in the sea.
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