‘A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy’ And Lothario Nostalgia

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"‘A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy’ And Lothario Nostalgia"

When I walked out of a screening of A Good Old Fashioned Orgy a couple of weeks ago, I was convinced I didn’t like the movie. The story about a group of friends who decide to hold an orgy to celebrate the end of their run of summers at a house in the Hamptons that’s being sold out from under them initially struck me as overly crude, yet another entry in Jason Sudeikis’ torpedoing of his own likability. But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since, and I think I’ve decided there’s something refreshing and vulnerable about this crude, funny little movie that’s continued my thinking about male fantasies.

There’s no question that A Good Old Fashioned Orgy is vulgar and sometimes bro-ish in a way that can be off-putting. It’s not really much fun to watch a grown man speculate about what it might be like to receive oral sex from a high school girl wearing what he assumes are snap game bracelets, musing that “I bet she unhinges her jaw like a python.” Similarly, treating a guy who worries about HPV as if he’s stupid to worry about cervical cancer because “you don’t have a cervix” or mocking a man who doesn’t mind a girlfriend with pubic hair as some kind of hippie seem like unfortunate instances of beating up on men for acting like decent human beings. And when one character tells the core cast at a “White Trash Party” they’re hosting “I don’t find the notion of mocking the American underclass as amusing as you and your friends do,” I was pretty much in agreement.

But there’s something intriguing about the central insecurity that drives the characters to the idea that an orgy is a good idea: a sense that folks in their late twenties and early thirties lost some of their sexual self-confidence to the AIDS crisis. “It scared the shit out of all of us,” Sudeikis’ character Eric explains, making the pitch for the orgy to his friends. “Kids these days are freaks. This is our chance to take back what’s been taken from us.” I don’t think that the advent of an age of safe sex and realistic concerns about sexually transmitted diseases is a tragedy—it’s precisely the opposite, of course. But an ideal world is one where people can balance responsibility with the ability to ask for what they want. I was talking to Jaime Weinman, the television critic at Maclean’s about this over the weekend, and he pointed out there’s a definitive decline in the number of lotharios on television in the late eighties and early nineties that’s been followed by a resurgence of the type in recent years. The characters in A Good Old Fashioned Orgy aren’t all men, and they’re not necessarily aspiring to be Sam Malone, but despite the crudeness of the movie’s first half, the second is actually reasonably sensitive and thoughtful about exploring the characters’ desires.

A more conventional romantic comedy would bring the characters up to the brink of the orgy and have them walk away from it in favor of stable monogamy. A Good Old Fashioned Orgy almost takes that route, but instead has the characters go ahead with it. Sex in almost all mainstream pop culture is a complicating factor, so there’s something refreshing about A Good Old Fashioned Orgy‘s insistence that it can be clarifying. That doesn’t mean the clarity all of the characters get is particularly satisfying. One character who hopes the orgy will push her into a relationship with Eric is disappointed. Alison (Lake Bell) ends her relationship after the evening. McCrudden (Tyler Labine) is still jobless and girlfriendless, but he’s vocalized some of his fears about that lack of success. But for some of them, it’s a big, positive deal. Laura (Lindsay Sloane) has her first orgasm and Adam (Nick Kroll, who I’m loving in The League), mostly portrayed as a hypochondriac nerd, is treated like a singularly admirable guy for having the patience to get her there. The movie even takes a stab at being equal-opportunity guy-on-guy and girl-on-girl.

A Good Old Fashioned Orgy isn’t a perfect movie. Like Bridesmaids, I wish Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck, who wrote and directed, had been confident about the core concepts to forego some cheap and gross laughs. But it’s smart — and different — enough about sex and relationships that I hope this is the beginning of a movie conversation rather than the end of it.

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