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'Casual Sex?'

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 27, 1988


Genevieve Robert
Lea Thompson;
Victoria Jackson;
Stephen Shellen;
Mary Gross
Under 17 restricted

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The title of "Casual Sex?," a new comedy starring Lea Thompson and Victoria Jackson, used to be "Casual Sex." But that was back in the good ole days when life was a joyful frolic.

Way back in 1985, "Casual Sex" was a successful play written by Judy Toll and Wendy Goodman, two members of a Los Angeles comedy-acting group, and physical contact with a stranger didn't necessarily require a wet suit.

But much has changed since then. And so Goodman and Toll updated their original for first-time director Genevieve Robert, and to show their sense of social responsibility, added the question mark.

Guess that takes care of that.

The film doesn't restrict itself to the exploration of sex; its subject, to use the words of one of its characters, is "the whole man-woman thing." To this end, it examines the sexual lives and attitudes of two young Southern California women, Stacy and Melissa.

In the past, Stacy (Lea Thompson) has always liked sex. "It was my way of getting closer to men," she says. On the other hand, Melissa (Victoria Jackson) views sex with fear and semiloathing; for her, it's one of the little unpleasantnesses a woman has to put up with to be with a man.

Most of the film takes place at an upscale health spa where the lifelong friends have gone to get away from it all and to "break some hearts." Once there, the two women begin to make contact with the opposite sex, most of whom are portrayed as belonging to a disgustingly hairy, penile-obsessed subspecies.

Basically, what Robert and her screenwriters have done is take generic situations between men and women -- things that are meant to make us crack a secret smile of recognition -- and turn them into skits about the unbearably touching bittersweetness of modern-day dating life. The movie isn't totally craven and exploitative. In its own borderline serious, hamfisted way, it's an attempt to express how women feel about sex and love and men in general, but that doesn't help much, because the filmmakers haven't brought anything new to the discussion. Women are women. And men are pathetic. We could be stuck in a Thurber cartoon -- except that here the characters exercise more.

If this is a demonstration that a woman director is better able than a man to deal with women's concerns, I would hate to see what a man came up with. In any case, I can't imagine that it's possible for either men or women to come off looking any more mindlessly infantile than they do here.

Jackson, the wonderfully twitterpated comedian from "Saturday Night Live," lends Melissa her own private brand of weirdness. You're sure that if you opened her head, it would be filled with cotton candy.

If we opened Thompson's head ... well, let's not get into this.

"Casual Sex?," the movie, is exactly like the real thing -- kinda empty, kinda unfulfilling, and you feel just awful afterward.

Casual Sex?, at area theaters, is rated R and contains explicit discussions of sex and some mild nudity.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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