Is "Sex Tapes" a romantic comedy (rom-com)? Grudgingly, reluctantly, the answer is yes — laced with caveats.
Is "Sex Tape" a romantic comedy (rom-com)? Grudgingly, reluctantly, the answer is yes — laced with caveats.
For decades, Hollywood has relied on this genre as a durable and comedic way to examine fresh relationships between two attractive people who often "meet cute," discover they have chemistry, but they find the road to ultimate bliss to be strewn with obstacles: personal, familial, financial or professional. And true to the genre, it's how the road to happiness is negotiated that is the essence of the rom-com.
Breaking "Sex Tape" down, Jay (Jason Segel) and Annie (Cameron Diaz) meet in college and immediately hook up and begin coupling like rabbits whenever the spirit moves them, no matter the geography: the university library, the school quad, cars and so on. Within three months, Annie is pregnant, and the couple announces to Annie's folks that they're getting married. They're jump-the-couch in love with love, and their physical attraction is, well, insatiable.
Annie, naturally, understands that big changes are on the way and worries that Jay may not desire her when she is in her second or third trimester; Jay insists he will. Standard scene, predictable dialogue.
Fast-forward 10 years: two kids, nifty house in the 'burbs and two cars. Jay is a music executive (or something akin). Annie is a "Mommy" blogger. Both are harried and exhausted and agree that though they want to have sex, well, it's hard to find the time or the mojo. But they're both likable and game. They just need a night alone. Which they arrange, sending the kids to Annie's mom and dad for a sleepover.
Let the games begin.
It's a familiar trope. Regrettably, the solution to their ho-hum romance doesn't begin with an intimate conversation about whether, after a decade, it's realistic to expect to recreate their courtship; instead, they decide to explore new locations in their house, beginning with an unrequited roll in the master bedroom hay. Not happening. OK, how about the sofa, or the kitchen floor? Nope.
Solution? Make a sex tape of themselves in the den. That should add some much-needed spice. So Jay sets up the computer camera, Annie grabs the "Joy of Sex" (Alex Comfort's '70s how-to bible) off the bookshelf and suggests they use it as a guide.
They spend three hours (really) recording their athletic session, and Jay promises to hit delete once they've viewed the result. He forgets and their session is now somewhere in "the cloud." Or not. It's an oh-my-god moment. Major obstacle now injected into this already desperately thin narrative: how to get it back.
Apparently, Jay gives iPads away to friends loaded with his latest hits of favorite music from work. The sex tape has been downloaded to those iPads by mistake. Whoops. Forget the cloud. Suddenly desperate to get these wafer-like computers back, Annie and Jay hit the L.A. streets, rushing from house to house (beginning with Annie's folks), then their best friends, followed by a visit to Annie's new boss (Rob Lowe). He's got an iPad, too.
It's all silly and nonsensical, scenes that are vacuous and devoid of humor. Diaz does adorable (her smile is irresistible), and Segel tries for frantic, but it's one-note writing. They've got the hammer and every set up is a nail, each monotonous and absent anything approaching good writing. Even Diaz's bare tush, which is on full display, is not enough to make "Sex Tape" watchable.
There was a time when this genre was intelligent, steeped in humor, engaging and compelling. The Golden Age (1930s-'40s) was replete with good writing, sharp wit and featured top-drawer comedic actors such as Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, followed later by Woody Allen and Diane Keaton (recall the now iconic "Annie Hall"). Even Jack Nicholson has demonstrated solid comedic timing in the wonderfully written rom-com, "As Good as it Gets."
What's happened of late to the rom-com may simply mirror the coarsening and voyeuristic changes taking place in our full-disclosure culture. If you say the f-word often enough, if you show breasts and butts with abandon (Segel gave us the Full Monty in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," but resists in "Sex Tape"), trivialize everything with empty interactions, you're doing it in the hopes that this, in the aggregate, will hide the fact that the story (dialogue and plot) is mediocre and eventually drops off a cliff into just plain awful. Which is what "Sex Tapes" is: awful.