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Right now the Cameron Diaz/Jason Segel sex-comedy Sex Tape has an embarrassingly low 19% on Rotten Tomatoes. Our own Eric Eisenberg was one of those who dubbed the movie "rotten," calling it "small, uneven, and, at times, lazy." Frankly, I was surprised to see the critical consensus was against the latest comedy from director Jake Kasdan. This is in part because the screening I attended was flush with rich laughter throughout. But moreover, it's because I--as a married woman--was personally elated to see that in the midst of this decidedly daffy comedy, there are some great things that Sex Tape gets right about long-term relationships.
By now, you likely know Sex Tape's premise: Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel play Annie and Jay, a married couple who, between work, raising two kids, and the monotony of day-to-day life, have lost the spark in their sex life. More specifically, it's been some time since they have had sex like they used to in their lusty college days. This in and of itself is a cliché of married life that can be boring in movies, and vaguely insulting to married people. However, Sex Tape takes great pains to make it clear how and why this rut has hit this otherwise fully functioning couple. And in doing so, Kasdan and company make a movie that's not just incredibly funny, but also winningly relatable.
Part of Annie and Jay's problem is deftly established in the film's opening moments, which is mirrored in the trailer below. When you first meet your partner, sex with them is a thrilling new adventure. Just seeing them naked is a novelty. But after years together, their nudity can become casual, and easily taken for granted. This is not to say your desire for them is less, just that it's more in check.
Sex Tapes's heroes Annie and Jay know their disconnect from sex is a problem. Eventually, the making of the sex tape is their way of getting over that hump--or back into it. But the script by Kate Angelo, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller is careful to weave in elements like the complication of kids invading your bed, and demanding so much of you energy. (I'm told this is an experience most parents can readily relate to.) When you share a life with someone, you can at times take them--and frankly yourself--for granted. Annie and Jay recognize this, and desperately want to correct it, to make time for intimacy and reconnect. Their initially flawed attempts--pre-sex tape--make for some of the movie's most familiarly funny moments.
When a kink misstep forces the pair to start over with some simple--but sensual--kissing, the lip locks exchanged are not the sexy screen kisses of epic romance. Jay is doing something alien with his mouth, working his jaw up and down in an inexplicable fashion. Annie tries to go with it, but ends up yelling at him in frustration. This is a metaphor for the two not being on the same wavelength. It happens in romantic relationships, and watching it onscreen is weirdly cathartic because it assures us all, you aren't the only one.
But despite its title, Sex Tape is about so much more than sex. Annie and Jay repeatedly assure each other that they are both attracted to and in love with each other. But it's the way they say it that tips Sex Tape's insight into relationships. "I love fucking you," Annie coos. "I fucking love you," Jay replies. It's a moment minted from their first time that has become a treasured catch phrase for the pair. And when they make this exchange, they both smile sincerely, radiating with joy. Annie and Jay don't just love and lust after each other. They genuinely like each other. And I can't stress enough how integral this is to a happy long-term relationship or marriage.
You can love someone and still have them drive you nuts. It's basically an inevitable part of sharing your life with someone. But in those moments where you are frustrated with your partner, I've found it's often a simple thing you like about them that cuts the tension, be it the way they laugh, or their opinion on time travel, or their intense disdain for certain snack foods. So often in movies, it feels like this liking element is overlooked when painting portraits of married couples, in favor of lovey-dovey dialogue or passionate embraces. But in Sex Tape, it's a recurring theme.
Annie and Jay enjoy each other. Sex is a part of that, but not the entirety of it. And Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel completely sell this major element of their relationship. Watching Sex Tape, sure I noticed some logic gaps or structural problems. But honestly, I was so swept up in the apparent fun that Diaz and Segel have in each other's company that I didn't care. Their joy was contagious. This was an onscreen couple I was happy to hang out with because their appreciation and affection for each other is so clear and affecting.
Serving as a counter example to Annie and Jay are a pair of stressed out and sniping parents (Kumail Nanjiani and Artemis Asteriadis) of infant twins. After a big kiddie party, Annie laments to Jay that the two don't even seem to like each other any more. And this is our first hint of how crucial liking is to a lasting and satisfying relationship. In a climactic moment, this theme is cemented when a cameo guest star delivers a weirdly pornographic yet sweet summary that insists it's not the fucking of a relationship that matters. It's why you want to fuck in the first place. It's a crass lesson that plays like a bizarre afterschool special for adults. But after watching Annie and Jay make a whole array of wacky sacrifices and risks for each other, it's one that feels not only profound but also earned.
Ultimately, Sex Tape is much more than a raunchy comedy, though personally I think it satisfies on the level of outrageous laughs, outlandish characters, and insane physical comedy. It's at its core a surprisingly sweet movie that aims to relate to audiences relationship frustrations, but urges us to remember it's not the sex tape but its inspiration that matters most.
Sex Tape opens tomorrow.
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