The OH in Ohio (2006)

2006-07-14 (Limited release)

The main problem with The OH in Ohio is that most of its hijinks seem cribbed from episodes of Sex and the City — and we’re talking Season Two. There is the raging case of vibrator addiction, a sex workshop led by an eccentric instructor (Liza Minnelli in a pink satin cape emblazoned with the word “Masturbation”), and a vagina-naming ceremony. In fact, with its disjointed pacing and half-baked set-ups, the film is like a Sex and the City episode that has been edited for syndication: the missing ingredient isn’t profanity or nudity, but a fresh set of scenarios.

That said, the third act does feature an unlikely but delightful romance that almost grants the film a charm of its own. Parker Posey plays Priscilla Chase, a successful but uptight businesswoman married to Jack (Paul Rudd), a high school biology teacher. After 10 years of marriage and 1,482 rolls in the hay (she keeps a tally in her head), she has never had an orgasm, and Jack is, well, a little frustrated. He drinks cans of paper-bagged beer at his school desk and tussles unsuccessfully with a vending machine that refuses to dispense his tuna sandwich. (Rudd’s usually cherubic face is barely recognizable beneath a scruffy beard and pitch-black under-eye circles.) When the couple’s therapist asks Priscilla if she enjoys having sex with Jack, she thinks for a second, then replies, “I’ve never really thought about it in those terms.” This leads Jack to seek solace in the arms of his student Kristen (Mischa Barton), a Harvard-bound biophysics phenom, while Priscilla sets out to find her orgasm.

The scenes comprising Priscilla’s journey — which include clumsy one-night stands, makeshift sex toys, and an unsuccessful experiment with lesbianism — lumber along. Most of the jokes fizzle or fall flat. In an especially hard-to-watch scene, Priscilla inadvertently orgasms while delivering a presentation at work (long story), and Posey’s histrionics make Meg Ryan’s notorious “oh-oh-oh” in When Harry Met Sally look subtle.

Worse, Jack’s extramarital dalliance with Kirsten is casual to the point of being amoral. In the movie’s production notes, director Billy Kent claims that “the Kristen character was never someone Jack was taking advantage of… [Instead,] Jack is a testing ground for her newfound maturity,” which is a feeble justification for the film’s indulgence in Lolita-esque fantasies. Just because a high school student is precocious doesn’t excuse her teacher from sleeping with her, and Jack’s “comeuppance” is a stab at irony rather than a convincing indictment of his behavior.

But even if indictment is not precisely The OH in Ohio‘s purpose, and it means to be a raucous comedy, its ideas about sex are mostly conventional. At first the film pokes fun at Jack’s insecurities about his prowess and the fact that he is too threatened to bring a vibrator into the bedroom. A colleague tells him the device is a “dick teammate,” not a substitute, but ultimately the film subscribes to a sort of hierarchy of pleasure that privileges a man’s “technique” over all else. The orgasm Priscilla obtains using a vibrator doesn’t “count” as much as the one she might achieve having intercourse with a man — indeed, her reliance on her vibrator is characterized as “deviant.” What’s more, Jack is later assured that his penis is, in fact, “magnificent.”

So Priscilla’s inability to climax during sex is her problem. As she seeks it, she’s looking for “herself,” or at least rediscovering a sense of playfulness and abandon. She eventually finds a man who can help her do this and more, Wayne the Pool Guy, played by Danny DeVito, who handles the role with grace and humor. Their unfolding relationship allows The OH in Ohio to shake off its sitcom shackles, and grants Posey a chance to demonstrate vitality and vulnerability. She makes Priscilla’s joy and wonder at falling in love utterly infectious. She and DeVito share a rapport that’s warm, a shade naughty, and quite surprising, given the clichés that come before it.

Early in the film, when he promotes Priscilla to vice-president, her boss explains, “The thing about you is that you’re awesomely predictable.” Minus the “awesomely” part, the same words could be used to describe most of The OH in Ohio. It’s too bad it clings to stale gags and doesn’t devote more time to the burgeoning romance that is relegated to the final half hour. To put it in the film’s terms, you should go for The OH only if you’re willing to withstand 60 minutes of mechanical foreplay in order to get a little tickle at the finish. Both Priscilla and you deserve more than that.

The OH in OhioTheatrical Trailer

RATING 4 / 10
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