I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of what passes for comedy in Hollywood
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Annie (Cameron Diaz: The Other Woman, The Counsellor) and Jay (Jason Segel: This Is the End, The Five-Year Engagement) need to spice up their bedroom time: they’re still madly in love with each other, but their busy lives — including two rambunctious gradeschoolers — have left them just plain physically exhausted. So they decide to video themselves running through all the positions in The Joy of Sex. It works: they have a wonderful night. But a mishap with the Cloud and some iPads that they had given away as gifts — to family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances — sees the file accidentally distributed to all those other devices. So now they have to get them back before anyone watches their little home movie.
Color me absolutely astonished that a concept apparently fully charged for shaming and juvenile embarrassment over perfectly ordinary human behavior — and between a happily married couple, no less — ends up being as genuinely sweet and as wholly sex-positive as Sex Tape turns out to be. And this is even after some potentially “juicy” opportunities for shaming are set up by the script… like how Annie, who writes a popular mommy blog, worries that the pending sale of her website to a wholesome toy company will be scuttled if she’s seen as less than wholesome herself. I was all ready with a screed about how people seem to forget how mommies become mommies, but happily, I don’t need it. Sex Tape doesn’t ignore the reality of how stupid American culture can be about sex, but it refuses to indulge such snickering immaturity, and uses a few grossout moments not to humiliate people for their normal human sexual peccadilloes but to remind us that, hey, we all do this stuff. I never would have expected anything so humanist, so nice, from a studio comedy about a missing sex tape.
That said, there’s a huge problem here: this comedy simply isn’t funny. The preposterous shenanigans that ensue as Jay and Annie go in search of the iPads are overly strained, as if screenwriters Segel, Nicholas Stoller (Muppets Most Wanted, The Muppets), and Kate Angelo (The Back-up Plan) suddenly realized, as the would-be comedic action finally gets going, that there’s actually nothing humorous here now that they’ve eliminated the usual Hollywood comedy route of humiliation (not that that would have been funny either, of course). Worse than that is the enormous plot hole that is addressed late in the film in a such a way as to suggest, again, that the existence of the hole hadn’t occurred to the writers until well into their project — and the way they attempt to paper over it just tosses the entire movie into complete irrelevance. The story simply shouldn’t have been a story at all… and that’s something to be ashamed about.
The movie’s attitudes are wonderful, though. Next time, maybe someone will combine them with some actual comedy.