Published September 1, 2000
There is a certain wit to Valerie Breiman’s Love and Sex that makes it something more than a complete waste of an evening. As Dr. Johnson said of the Giant’s Causeway, it is worth seeing but not worth going to see. Could he have been looking forward to the age of videotape? The story makes use of a simple framing device. Journalist Kate (Famke Janssen) is charged with the task of exploiting her own romantic history as a means of describing love and sex and their customs among young adults today. This naturally requires a series of flashbacks recounting her various emotional and sexual entanglements. The weak link would seem to be the absurd idea that we don’t already know, partly with the help of movies like this one, far more than we need to know about love and sex among the young today. At the same time it is entirely believable that a woman’s magazine of the sort Kate works for would think such an investigation an original idea.
The real problem with it is also the film’s chief virtue: that a story of sexual adventurism in a very self-consciously contemporary manner—one that, if not as crass as the ghastly Whipped, seems to be undertaken in the same spirit—swiftly turns into a romance. We are entirely prepared to offer up our sympathies to the troubled yet ever-promising relationship between Kate and her true love, Adam (Jon Favreau), but what then becomes of the premiss of the female adventurer? She claims to have slept with thirteen different men before him, but we meet only two of them. Could it be that there is a shyness here of making her appear slutty? Likewise, her gal-pal Mary (Cheri Oteri) back at the magazine, with whom she is presumably meant to compare sexual notes in a delightfully light-hearted fashion, almost completely drops out of the movie once the romance gets rolling.
One is driven to the conclusion that the frame is really just a kind of Potemkin village designed to disguise from an incorrigibly hip audience the fact that it is being offered nothing more, really, than an old-fashioned romance. There is an unattractive timidity about this imposture that is ultimately off-putting. In somewhat the same way, when Kate gets pregnant the problem is almost immediately solved by a convenient miscarriage. Of course we know why Ms Breiman spares her the necessity of the abortion that she is said to be toying with. For all our—and the film’s—apparent celebration of women’s sexual freedom, we are still ashamed and guilty enough about the fatal “choice” that makes that freedom possible not to want to see it made by a character we like. This way, Kate gets to be the victim too. But we are left with the sense that Ms Breiman and her movie ought to have more the courage of their convictions.
On the plus side, there is some sharp observation and some well-written dialogue, both in establishing the rapport between Adam and Kate and in the few bits of the movie that are left over from the original, female-Tom-Jones scenario. One of the two affairs in Kate’s past that we learn something about begins with her car’s rear-ending that of a man called Eric (Noah Emmerich) who, after shouting at her in the street, tries to pick her up. Perhaps the adrenalin rush makes this seem like a good idea to her, but soon, in the middle of the dinner to which he subsequently takes her, we see them locked in a passionate embrace in the men’s room of the restaurant. Afterwards, back at their table Eric is exultant and Kate more dubious. He is sure that they have much in common.
“What do we have in common?” she asks.
Eric has to think for a while and then says, “How many people do you know who can comfortably have sex in public places?”
Kate, incredulous, replies: “Every man I’ve ever met!”
This kind of feminine wonder at masculine obtuseness looks forward to Kate’s relationship, on the rebound from Adam, with the brainless actor Joey Santino (Josh Hopkins), who announces after a night of lovemaking that he is in love with her. “We’ve known each other 14 hours,” she says to him—and most of that time has been spent in non-stop sex.
“I loved you in the first hour,” says Joey. “I waited thirteen to tell you.”
Here, as in so many other instances, the good and appealing things about the movie are those which take us back to the sort of feminine wisdom which, by finding ways to tame the male appetite, makes traditional romance possible. But the chugging away in the background of Ms Breiman’s strenuous efforts not to be excessively traditional is in the end too much of a distraction from the romance.