It’s not difficult to identify some of the reasons why writer-director Blake Edwards’ sex comedy “10” struck a nerve during its highly successful initial release. The story of a middle-aged man who can’t stand the fact that young swingers are having wild sex while he’s stuck in a frosty monogamous relationship, the picture spoke to a whole generation of squares who felt like they were missing out on the erotic perks of the counterculture.
And then there was the Bo factor. Although she had appeared in a couple of minor films previously, sun-kissed starlet Bo Derek made a huge splash with “10,” instantly becoming one of the most iconic sex symbols of the ’70s. The key image, featured in ads and posters everywhere, depicts the actress jogging along a beach in long-lensed soft focus, her cornrow-braided hair bouncing around her apple-cheeked face, and the rest of her, well, just plain bouncing. Epitomizing a certain fantasy ideal of California sexiness, she was the perfect object for the fixation of dirty old men circa 1979, and her casting is a major part of why the movie works as well as it does—which, it must be said, is not all that well.
The problem isn’t so much the story, standard wayward-male stuff about Hollywood songwriter George Webber (Dudley Moore) skipping out on his lady to chase after a dream girl; the problem is Edwards’ execution. Instead of focusing on his forte of intricate physical comedy, Edwards tries to make a statement on American manhood that’s about as deep as a Playboy editorial, and nothing drags comedy down like shallow social commentary. Thus, the slapstick bits are often very funny—as when Moore tries to walk across a beach toward Derek but keeps hopping up and down like a dolt because the sand is too hot for his delicate tootsies—but the talking bits are tedious.
Scenes of George arguing sexual politics with his Broadway-star girlfriend, Samantha (Julie Andrews), are pretentious and, now, quite dated. Even worse are the conversations between George and Jenny (Derek), who comes across not as a real character but as Edwards’ judgmental idea of an airheaded free spirit. To be fair, Edwards is just as harsh in depicting George, but that raises another question—if we’re not rooting for George to have a sexual adventure or rooting for Jenny to steer clear of a horndog, whose story are we following? Given that the picture meanders through a needlessly long running time, and given that the takeaway is a trite love-conquers-lust message, it seems Edwards never quite answered that question.
Still, there are things to enjoy, and not just the ogling shots of Derek (which, in the context of the movie, seem appropriate instead of gratuitous). Robert Webber is funny and touching as George’s (gay) lyricist, working through his own difficulties with a decades-younger love interest; Dee Wallace is affecting as a lonely woman whose near-miss romantic encounter with George reaffirms her self-loathing; and Brian Dennehy dishes out 100-proof wisdom as a beach-resort bartender. A handful of comedy pros show up for enjoyable bit parts, with Max Showalter standing out as a reverend who wants George to hear the little romantic ditty he’s composed.
These strong elements underline the frustrating thing about “10”—in many ways, Edwards was at the top of his game when he made the picture, but his grasping attempts at “significance” merely reveal the limits of his talent for cultural observation.