Thursday, November 8, 2012

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972)

          An oddity among Woody Allen’s early films, this picture comprises a series of comic sketches rather than a feature-length narrative—and though Allen’s career is filled with genius quickies, from one-liners to short stories to his hilarious contribution to the 1989 anthology film New York Stories, this movie doesn’t consistently represent his best work. The picture has wonderful moments, of course, and it’s mildly amusing from start to finish, but it ebbs considerably at times, and the lack of a narrative through-line makes the whole thing feel a bit disposable. The movie is based on Dr. David Reuben’s nonfiction bestseller Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), which was credited with broadening the number of sex-related subjects everyday Americans discussed without embarrassment.
          Prior to each of the movie’s seven sections, Allen presents a sex-related question via onscreen text, and then follows the question with a silly comic episode offering a possible answer to the question. Sometimes, Allen scores simply by being outrageous, like the “What is Sodomy?” section featuring a doctor (Gene Wilder) romancing a sheep—the combination of Allen’s sly dialogue and Wilder’s deadpan delivery produces goofy fun. Elsewhere, Allen gets carried away with discursive flourishes such as parodies of well-known film styles; the fact that he slows down the movie to spoof Italian neorealist drama, low-budget science fiction, and even Shakespearean adaptations indicates how far Allen was stretching for material. Another distracting element is Allen’s sporadic onscreen presence. He stars in the first and last segments, as well as two others, so the implied joke of dweeby Allen dominating a movie about sex is diluted. Plus, as was Allen’s cinematic wont at the time, he falls back on childish slapstick when he can’t muster verbal gags, so the tone of the movie fluctuates between cartoonish and sophisticated.
          Having said all that, the picture is worth watching if only for the final sequence, “What Happens During Ejaculation?” Representing Allen’s wit at its most mischievous, the sequence imagines the interior of a human brain as a military-style command center, with an uptight Operator (Tony Randall) calling the shots while body parts perform necessary functions. As the scene progresses, the Operator and his sidekick (Burt Reynolds) organize an army of sperm for deployment into a sex partner’s vagina—and one of the sperm “soldiers” is a nervous dork (Allen) who wonders if he’ll succeed in fertilizing an egg or simply die during the “invasion.” The sight of Allen in a ridiculous costume—white jumpsuit with a comically round abdomen and a tail—is funny before Allen even speaks his first line, so listening to him fret about his impending suicide mission kicks the sequence into comic overdrive.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask): GROOVY

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