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Whipped

Director: Peter M. Cohen
Cast: Amanda Peet, Brian Van Holt, Jonathan Abrahams, Zorie Barber, Judah Domke

(Destination Films; 2000)

Pussy

“Everybody fucks everybody. It’s the nature of the beast.”


With these winning voiced-over words, Whipped introduces its protagonist and primary object, Mia (Amanda Peet). And while she’s waxing profound and cynical on human relations, you’re watching one of the three guys who will be wooing her during the next 88 minutes, Brad (Brian Van Holt). He’s on the street in New York, unable to get a cab, becoming increasingly frustrated. Cut to a scene in a bar, where Brad addresses the camera: “I can provide a woman with pretty much everything she wants,” he says. “Sausage included.”


Sigh.


Written, directed, and produced by first-timer Peter M. Cohen, Whipped is plainly pleased with its drippy cynicism. The premise is this: Brad and his three best friends — Zeke (Zorie Barber), Jonathan (Jonathan Abrahams), and Eric (Judah Domke) — meet regularly for Sunday “brunches,” during which they brag and kvetch about their sex lives, what they call “scamming” (translation: getting over into girls’ pants). Three of the guys are single, and so, while the make fun of chubby-geeky-whiny Eric’s married status (you never see the wife, Lorraine), they also dream of the perfect girl, that special someone who’s just waiting to be swept off her feet by the male’s eminent charms, who’s not merely a “gorilla on Ecstasy” (an especially aggressive lover) or Hoover Hannah (apparently famous for giving Brad a five-hour blowjob), but able to hold a conversation about the male’s particular area of interest — in these cases, stocks (Brad), screenplays (Zeke), and masturbation (Jonathan). They also instruct their designated dork-boy, Jonathan, in attaining the “untease-able dick,” which means an attitude that allows you to “fuck and forget.” In order to attain this nirvana of cynicism, you must be burned by some bad babe, and poor Jonathan simply hasn’t been there yet.


This is because Jonathan has slept with only nine women in his life (when he confesses this to the camera, he hopefully describes himself as “picky,” but his big-talking pals obviously consider him “retarded”). Jonathan’s lack of experience becomes his one-joke characterization, daily masturbation. It’s never clear what he does to pay rent (but then again, who cares). Jonathan’s buddies do have jobs, or at least occupations which grant them means to scam. Brad is some kind of Wall Street person, though you never see him at work, just “out with the guys from work.“And Zeke is some kind of writer, though you never see him writing, hanging out in a “beatnik cafe,” reading books in a corner and affecting “enigmatic,” artiste-y mannerisms that somehow appeal to the chicks he thinks he wants to pick up (or who pick him up and then steal his stereo and tv: now isn’t that a funny punchline!).


The boys’ diner meetings provide the film with a basic structure, such that the segments are numbered and titled, thusly: “Week 3: Mayhem,” “Week 6: Whipped.” You might think this device turns more tedious than clever, and you’d be right. But it’s not only the structural and visual repetition that’s annoying (they always meet in the same booth and the camera set-ups are all the same), it’s also the characters’ lack of — for lack of a better word — development JonathanZekeEricandBrad’s conversations cover and re-cover the same thematic ground, that is, who got some that weekend, how and where. I’ve asked around, and been informed that guys like this do exist, but no one I’ve spoken with admits to knowing one personally. They perform for each other (see also the requisite pickup basketball game, as the four demonstrate that white men can’t jump or score or anything else: this would be the “physical” humor sequence). And, sigh again, this leads to the not very subtle suggestion that they share a certain homoerotic bond, of which they are deathly afraid. Whenever anyone — for instance, the domesticated, Cosmo-reading Eric — mentions something about achieving better performance (e.g., drinking apple juice to make for a better tasting blowjob, using kitchen appliances to enhance a woman’s pleasure) — the others dismiss him immediately, as it’s girly and/or gay to be too concerned with what a woman “wants,” except as this leads specifically to getting what you want. The goal, after all, is to be a perfectly self-fixated guy.


No surprise, all this chatter-and-chest-thumping leads to competition over one girl, the aforementioned Mia. While the brunch routine ostensibly affords the guys a sense of security, it also wears a little thin for viewers who have already seen it in ensemble-boy-bonding movies like Diner, Swingers, or The Tao of Steve, not to mention that so-stale business where protagonists confess their bad or downright silly ideas about how to pork, bone, and spank their own monkeys to the camera, as in such classic films as, oh, Body Shots, which, coincidentally, also stars our girl Amanda Peet.


Peet’s Mia is energetic and pretty and very special, even if this really is the boys’ movie and she only shows up at moments when she can best illustrate their anxieties, concerns, and “issues.” While the film’s general organization — three guys competing for one woman, all knowing about one another, all showing up at her apartment at the same time — is pretty much directly ripped off from Spike Lee’s groundbreaking She’s Gotta Have It, here the focus is not on the she, but the three he’s (who would be derived from Diner, Swingers, etc., etc.). Still, the film’s marketing campaign is plainly focused on Peet, who has the box office clout to open the film. It appears that, since her “breakout” performance as Bruce Willis’s hitperson trainee in The Whole Nine Yards, Peet has generated enough buzz to have gotten Whipped off the shelf, where it has lingered for some time (and, no doubt, the fact that it is opening against the unpreviewed Highlander: Endgame likely has something to do with the choice of this particular weekend for its release).


Mia appears in each man’s fantasies and in person, telling them as a group, so very Nola-Darling-like, that she doesn’t want to choose among them, that she fancies them all equally, though for different reasons. Blah blah blah: she shares an interest in Brad’s stock quotes, Zeke’s screenwriting, and Jonathan’s masturbation, which leads to one lame Trainspotting ripoff, as Jonathan must recover Mia’s vibrator from a shit-filled toilet (tired!). And Mia/Peet is, as the trailers underline, mightily cute and kinetic (though the much-rotated scene where she performs the “Who’s your daddy!?” line for her girlfriends comes way late in the proceedings, and leads exactly nowhere). Mia’s incredible ability to find something to enjoy in each of these idiots — piled on top of her voice-over introduction to the film — doesn’t leave much suspense as to her own cynicism and performative prowess. Still, the movie pretends for a bit that she might be sincere in her affections, or at least it allows each of the male characters to think that he is the Chosen One, leading to contemplations of marrying and/or shacking up with the lovely Mia, of making her his very own.


It would seem that Whipped wants to comment shrewdly on the state of male-female, and more to the point, male-male, relationships. But its insights — men and women lie to one another and themselves, women talk about penis size amongst themselves — are pretty much played out. Jeez, can it be so interesting — still — to ponder the notion that women can play so-called guys’ games better than men do? Is it amusing to watch men behave badly and be punished for it? And is it news that the socio-political system — “Everybody fucks everybody” — remains in place throughout all of these machinations? Let’s hope not.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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