According to the press kit, Love and Sex (which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival) is writer/director Valerie Breiman’s first “official” feature film — an understandable claim when one’s last directorial credit is called Bikini Squad. And despite the generally negative reviews Love and Sex has received, it’s a lot better than anyone has a right to expect from the maker of Bikini Squad. Actually, it’s a lot better than the general run of criticism would lead you to believe, too. Originality is not the film’s hallmark — except, perhaps, in the details. Magazine writer Kate Welles, played by Famke Janssen (X-Men), lands in trouble with her boss over a supposedly uplifting article on relationships that is, instead, a seemingly downbeat treatise on oral sex. The boss, Ms. Steinbacher (a viciously hilarious parody of a Gloria Steinem-type publisher — and the role is beautifully tailored to Ann Magnusson) gives Kate the rest of the day to come up with a more appropriate piece of journalism. Hoping to discover something positive she can say about relationships, Kate begins reviewing her own romantic past. The bulk of the film is built around her self-examination of a series of comically disastrous romances, centering on a still-unresolved one with vaguely neo-expressionist painter Adam Levy (Jon Favreau of Swingers). Obviously inspired by Woody Allen-style sexual/romantic introspection, Breiman labors gamely to create a work that is both funny and realistic, sprinkling in occasional autobiographical hints (one of the failed romances, for example, is with the star of a series of topless ninja movies; coming from the director of Bikini Squad, this cannot be entirely coincidental). Sometimes she succeeds, sometimes not. Breiman’s central problem is a tendency toward sitcom simplicity and predictability that undermines her attempts to make any kind of realistic statement. But she scores very nicely with the casting, giving us two very untraditional romantic leads who manage to be extremely likable and whose offbeat natures help them sustain at least the illusion of realism. The real surprise (and one not immediately apparent to most viewers, it seems) is that Breiman has crafted a movie about love and sex without a single actual nude scene, yet it manages to be quite sexy all the same. Love and Sex is by no means a great film, but Breiman has produced a singularly zippy little comedy with a lively pace that manages to pack its scanty 82 minutes with a nice supply of laughs — and occasional moments of genuine feeling.
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