[2 September 2011]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
There’s the hip cool guy. His fat, funny best buddy. The hypochondriacal workaholic. The misunderstood artistic type. On the women’s side, we got the high school sweetheart. The insecure mouse with body issues. The know-it-all therapist with the easy psycho-babble answers to everything. And the hot chick. Toss in a harried married couple already in possession of a bratling and a random local gal who reluctantly becomes part of the shrill shenanigans and you’ve got A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, a movie that thinks its smarter, funnier, and more insightful than it really is. True, there are moments here that ring with honesty and hilarity, but for the most part, it’s an excursion through archetypes that don’t do much more than apply the punch-line oriented talking cure to every major interpersonal issue imaginable.
Every weekend during the blistering Northeastern summers, Eric (Jason Sudeikis) and his party animal bud Mike (Tyler Labine) head up to the family domicile in the Hamptons and throw massive, complicated theme parties. They always invite the overworked Adam (Nick Kroll), rock star in training Doug (Martin Starr), and gal pals Sue (Michelle Borth), Alison (Lake Bell), Laura (Lindsay Sloane), and Willow (Angela Sarafyan). Tagging alone are new parents/engaged couple Kate and Glenn (Lucy Punch and Will Forte). One day, Eric discovers his dad (Don Johnson) at the property, preparing to sell it. Seems he no longer wants the burden of ownership, and since our hero has no money, it looks like this will be the last sun-drenched blowout ever. With the help of a willing real estate agent (Leslie Bibb), Eric postpones the inevitable for a final, freakish idea - keep it small and simple…and sexy. Indeed, the group decides that an orgy is in order.
A Good Old Fashioned Orgy is a comedy for people with hang-ups about sex. It’s an R rated laugher with a PG oriented idea of salaciousness. If the sight of a old man’s full frontal junk or the sound of a random ten to twelve letter curse word stimulates your funny bone, you’re going to love it. These tickles are definitely ribbed for your pleasure. But for a more sophisticated crowd, for the person who doesn’t plotz at the image of a dildo or the suggestion of something kinky, the results feel forced and manufactured. We can buy into the idea that Eric and his friends are fixtures on the Hamptons. They come across as the kind of entitled tools that don’t mind making fun of the local populace - or the police. Indeed, some of the stunts they pull feel structured to set up a crackerjack in-joke. Unfortunately, the laugh never arrives.
That’s because no one is a fully dimensional character here. For all his whining and whimpering, Eric is the face, the former frat boy type that, while unsuccessful at other aspects of life (job, responsibility, etiquette) seems to have no problem charming the ladies. He just puts on the patter and - VIOLA! Instant phone number. Naturally, this makes his raging hippo of a buddy all jealous if genial. Like John Belushi without the animalistic Id, Tyler Labine’s Mike is a thinking man’s homunculus. Constantly referencing his weight and lack of success with any gender, he’s a good time just waiting for a wine cooler to turn all weepy. When you toss in Adam and Doug - two sides of the same mensch coin - and the interchangeable girls, you’ve got nothing - no motives, no compassion, no interest.
Recognizing this fact, writers/directors Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck then decide to dive deep into the standard carnal kookiness. We get a trip to a private swingers party (complete with perverts, character reveal, and utility grade nudity) and a wedding day confrontation by our angry about-to-be-marrieds. Instead of trying for something smart and satiric - say a take on the infamous exploitation films of the ‘50s and ‘60s - these former TV scribes (The Larry Sanders Show) go back to decades of dirty snark junk. It’s like Laugh-In with lax standards and practices. Even worse, they also wallow in the kind of personality stereotyped that has stopped being hilarious around the time of talkies. So, Alison is an uptight therapist who can’t help but turn everything into a group session dynamic. Wow - that’s new.
In fact, all of A Good Old Fashioned Orgy plays like a Woody Allen movie without the smartness or the sass. Even the reason behind the title party - because the 30-somethings of today missed out on all the free love and available sex because of AIDS - seems tacky and ill-informed. It’s like a bunch of babies complaining that the FDA ruined the eating of lead paint for them. Then, to make matters worse, the octet decides to go through with the planned party, and things turn really unappetizing. Not because of the physicality of the partners, but the lack of concern for anything other than hedonistic release. When we see some of the match ups, when we envision the interpersonal aftershocks, we anticipate some interesting conversational fireworks. All we get is a half-wit induced hangover.
On the bright side, the cast give it their all and often rescue the film from its own ditzy devices. Sudeikis has an easy charm that matches well with Bibb’s geek smart girliness, and Punch and Forte have the farcical aspects down pat. But as for the rest of A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, it’s all promise and very little perversion. Had Gregory and Huyck decided to go for broke and make the R-rated comedy to end all R-rated comedies, we might have something magical - carnality as a catalyst for wit both gross and engaging. Instead, like all such movies of this type, everyone plays it safe. Apparently, it’s easier to work in expected truisms than attempt to break free. Some might feel frisky after visiting these cinematic sex games. Others will be bored by the lack of bawdiness.