At the heart of a sex farce is someone who wants to have sex (preferably illicit) but is amusingly thwarted. This gives us the best of both worlds, as we get to vicariously enjoy the illicit possibilities and feel righteously smug about the agonies the characters go through in pursuit of their quest.
The problem these days is in finding believable excuses for keeping the characters apart. Not quite in the category of believable, even within the low credibility threshold of a comedy is this movie’s premise: Josh Hartnett plays Matt, a web designer who gives up sex for Lent.
To make him a more sympathetic character, we find out that his real problem is that he can’t get over Nicole, the girl who dumped him. Though he tries and tries to have consequenceless sex with a series of girls who could have the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models feeling insecure, it just doesn’t make him happy. So he decides to go completely without for 40 days and nights. At first, he feels liberated and in control. But every first-act set-up requires a second-act complication, and it arrives in the form of the lithe and lissome Erica (Shannyn Sossamon of “A Knight’s Tale”). He enjoys getting to know her without jumping into bed, but after a while it becomes awkward. And when she finds out what he is doing and that there is actually a website devoted to whether he will last for 40 days, she feels hurt and betrayed. And then Nicole re-enters the picture.
This is a very raunchy and explicit comedy but it is all done with sweetness and even a certain humility that keeps it from being too disgusting. Hartnett and Sossnanan are stronger on the romance than the comedy but they have a nice chemistry and we can’t help rooting for them. Erica’s friend is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who seems to have real potential, with an adorable smile and wickedly perfect delivery.
Parents should know that this movie has extremely explicit (often humiliating) sexual situations and references, including casual sex, masturbation, nudity, Viagra, pornography (one tape is titled: “In Diana Jones and the Temple of Poon”), a same-sex kiss, overall skanky behavior, and a used condom. A woman has sex with a man without his consent (he is tied to the bed and thinks she is someone else). There is very strong language. Characters drink and smoke. Some viewers will be offended by the portrayal of a Catholic seminarian (Matt’s brother), who is having his own problems with the vow of chastity.
Families who see this movie should talk about how Matt sees the world differently (literally and metaphorically) as a result of his vow. How would his relationship with Erica have been different if he had not taken the vow? Why was he unable to enjoy casual sex – was it really his lingering feelings for Nicole or was it a sense that he had not connected with her any more than he did with his one night stands?
Viewers who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “American Pie.”