(2010) Romance (Phase 4) Dax Shepard, Katie Aselton, Bellamy Young, Ross Partridge, Sean Nelson, Marguerite Phillips, Joshua Leonard, Frankie Shaw, Houston Wages, Ken Kennedy, Leonora Gershman, Scott Pitts. Directed by Katie Aselton
Who knows what really happens between couples? Once behind the bedroom door, there’s a privacy that is intrinsic to any relationship. Not all relationships, no matter how healthy they seem on the outside, are as healthy as they might be.
Darren (Shepard) and his wife Annie (Aselton) seem to pretty well have it figured out. Outwardly friendly and affectionate, they’ve been married seven years and going strong. However, there’s that pesky behind closed doors thing going on; the spark has faded. It’s been ages since they’ve had sex; most nights they’re content with a little cuddling and crossword puzzles before lights out.
A dinner party in which Lea (Gershman), a friend, informs them that she’s split up with her boyfriend leads to a discussion in which she’s encouraged to put herself out there, to date regularly and have plenty of sex. Not terribly responsible advice but then again these aren’t supposed to necessarily be responsible people. Darren as a matter of fact boasts that when he was single he was quite the playa.
That leads to some conversation between Darren and Annie. The thrill is most definitely gone and they both are eager to get it back. They decide to rev things up by allowing each other a freebie – one night to go outside the marriage and have sex with no repercussions.
Darren immediately seeks out a barista he’s had his eye on (Young) while Annie heads to a bar where she opens up to a bartender (Partridge) about her situation with which he is more than happy to volunteer to assist with. When the night is over, it turns out that their solution to their problem was more like throwing gasoline on a fire and then throwing live ammo into the conflagration.
Aselton is married to director/writer/producer/actor Mark Duplass, who is associated with the mumblecore movement which some critics have lumped this movie into. Quite frankly, I don’t think this really fits into that mold; there are a few elements that are associated with that style (such as the hand-held cameras and intimate conversations being a part of the “action”) but overall there are more elements unalike than like…which isn’t a good or bad thing. It’s just a thing.
She does a good job with a subject that can be kind of tricky – sex within a marriage. Hollywood tends to look at the subject either as a raunchy comedy when it isn’t ignoring it altogether. Contrary to what we sometimes let on, sex doesn’t end once the marital vows are said, but often sex takes a different role within the marriage than it filled in the relationship before the marriage. It can wax and wane in terms of importance; sometimes it takes a backseat to other acts in the marriage such as cuddling and talking. Stress in the marriage (whether relationship-related or from outside sources) can also take a toll on the sex life.
For a movie like this to work, the couple in the spotlight has to be absolutely believable and Shepard and Aselton have good chemistry together. Shepard, who’s generally known for his comedic work, does some of the best work of his career to date in a role that’s more likable for the most part than the characters he generally plays. Aselton is also likable and sexy and one gets the sense that in the relationship, the problem tends to be more on Darren’s side than Annie’s; if he wanted to jump her bones she would likely be all too happy to let him.
At times this is very much like being the fly on a bedroom wall, with all the awkwardness that implies. Some might find that off-putting. Also, I was disappointed in the ending which had implications that could conceivably render the entire movie moot; that’s not a good feeling to have when you’re done watching the end credits. Still, Aselton is already a fine actress and it’s clear her husband isn’t the only director in the household. She has talent and has a future both behind the camera and in front of it – or in both places. I’m rooting for the latter, personally; the world could use a few more women who are adept at both.
WHY RENT THIS: A surprisingly adult and even-handed discussion of marital sexual apathy. Shepard delivers one of his finest performances.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little uncomfortable at times. The ending is a bit of a cop-out.
FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of bad words and given the subject matter plenty of sexual situations as well.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Shepard joined the cast a mere 18 hours before shooting began.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are four faux public service announcements promoting National Freebie Day, which were also used to market the film.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $16,613 on an unreported production budget; no way this movie made money.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hall Pass
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Total Recall (2012)