Monogamish


Sexuality should be playful.

(2017) Documentary (Abramorama) Dr. Christopher Ryan, Dan Savage, Tao Ruspoli, Roberta Haze, Claudia Ruspoli, Debra Berger, Dr. Loree Johnson, John Perry Barlow, Mark Wrathall, Stephanie Coontz, Frank Ryan, Julie Ryan, Sforza Ruspoli, Wendell Berger, Eric Berkowitz, Dossie Easton, Annette Burger, Eric Anderson, Judith Stacy, Stephanie Johnstone. Directed by Tao Ruspoli

 

As a culture, we have been taught to revere monogamy. When someone cheats in a marriage our sympathies automatically go to the cheated upon. While there are psychologists and philosophers who have written that monogamy is not the natural state for humankind, nonetheless western society has come to embrace it to a point.

After undergoing a bitter divorce, director/actor Tao Ruspoli decided he needed to explore the subject. He enlisted the help of a variety of experts on the subject from marriage counselors to academics to sex columnists to his own family. Ruspoli, as it turns out, is the son of an Italian prince. A child of the freewheeling 70s, his mother was his father’s 18-year-old girlfriend (his dad was in his 50s at the time) and grew up in a life of privilege but also in an environment where he was exposed to non-traditional relationships from an early age.

One thing we don’t get is why the interest in monogamy. The obvious answer is that either Ruspoli cheated on his ex-wife (actress Olivia Wilde) or she cheated on him, although neither scenario is spelled out in the film. Other ramifications from serial cheating are not explored, like the increased likelihood of sexually transmitted diseases.

There are some very good cases made for polyamory, particularly from Savage, an outspoken proponent for the subject and Dr. Christopher Ryan who has written books on it. Not everyone is wired to be monogamous; some people are unhappy in exclusive relationships. Also the point of marriage de-emphasizing sex is brought up but if sex is so unimportant, why would having sex with another partner be grounds to end it? It’s an interesting question that there are no easy answers to.

Not everyone is going to receive the message here well and I will admit that I personally felt that some of the arguments for polyamory felt more like excuses to be unfaithful. Any good relationship takes a lot of work and commitment; it is much harder to commit to someone else if there’s an easy out through infidelity. Roberta Haze, a neighbor of Ruspoli’s and a costume designer for the film industry, blithely admits that she left three husbands because she got bored with them. Perhaps for some people the need for excitement outweighs the need for stability.

I do think Ruspoli tries to present both sides of the equation, but it’s clear that his sympathies lie on one specific side as the “big reveal” at the end at the end of the movie implies. The subject is presented in a fairly clinical way and with a lot of personal anecdotes but at the end of the day this is a highly charged, emotional subject which the message for which might not be able to penetrate the emotional barriers set up by some who adhere to a certain mindset. Nonetheless, this is an excellent starting point for people interested in learning about our monogamous culture, the “marriage-industrial complex” (as Savage deems it) and a society which praises monogamy but in which infidelity is rampant.

REASONS TO GO: A thoughtful and insightful look at human sexuality.
REASONS TO STAY: At times the film seems to be looking for excuses to cheat.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of sexual content as well as some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Savage is best known for his column “Savage Love” printed weekly in the Seattle-based alternative paper The Stranger.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/16/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Human Sexes
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
TBD

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Breaking Upwards


Breaking up is hard to do.

Breaking up is hard to do.

(2009) Drama (IFC) Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones, Andrea Martin, Olivia Thirlby, Ebon Moss-Bacharach, Julie White, Peter Friedman, LaChanze, Pablo Schreiber, Heather Burns, Tate Ellington, Francis Benhamou, David Call, Sam Rosen, Max Jenkins, Audrey Allison. Directed by Daryl Wein

It is said that it isn’t always easy to pin down when a relationship begins but it is almost always obvious when a relationship ends. Hollywood tends to spend much more time in the former situation and much less in the latter and usually when a relationship ends in a Hollywood movie it’s always sudden, event-based and rarely the way things work in real life.

Daryl (Wein) and Zoe (Lister-Jones) have been going together for four years. He’s a writer and filmmaker, she’s an off-Broadway actress. Sex between them has become almost routine and just something that Zoe wants to get over with as quickly as possible.

Obviously the bloom is off of the rose of their relationship and the two of them, being good New York hipsters, decide that they’re going to spend some time apart but not the way most normal couples do. Instead, they’re going to pick several days during the week when they are forbidden from seeing each other. Hopefully this enforced time off will help them gain some perspective.

Instead, it gives them opportunities for them to see other people – Alan (Schreiber) in her case, Erika (Thirlby) in his. It also gives the relationship an opportunity to die slowly. Daryl moves in with his mom (White) while Zoe’s mom (Martin), a sort of hippie feminist sculptor with a big dash of Jewish mom thrown in for  good measure, attempts to help Zoe get through a situation that mom doesn’t quite understand.

Wein and Lister-Jones co-wrote the script (along with Peter Duchan) and reportedly based it on their own experiences as a couple when they were going through a rough patch (they are no longer together). Wein, who would go on to direct Lola Versus, shows some nice touches in depicting a relationship in a realistic manner but then turns it into an indie hipster fest with characters hanging out in coffee houses, listening to indie rock and talking like they based their dialogue on episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Wein and Lister-Jones make an engaging couple as you might expect having had a real life romance but it is after they separate that things kinda lose their steam. That’s a bit opposite of what I would have hoped for; in a chronicle of a relationship’s demise, I would hope that there would be more intensity as things spiral towards their inevitable conclusion.

The supporting cast, most of whom worked for scale if they took money at all is pretty impressive, with SCTV alum Martin showing the most depth but veterans White and Friedman also get some pretty nice scenes and Moss-Bacharach and Thirlby contributing some key scenes as well.

I take it that Wein and Lister-Jones are New Yorkers and of course they’re going to write about what they know. No problems there, although I think that at some point there are going to be enough movies about New York/Brooklyn hipsters and perhaps we’ll see people that don’t live in lofts that they can’t possibly afford, aren’t artists or artistic and don’t eat out and go out drinking more often than Paris Hilton does. If you’re going to make a movie about real relationships, the least you can do is make the environment real as well – at least, not a cliché typical indie flick New York environment which has been done to death.

I liked the premise a lot but the execution left a lot to be desired, mostly on the writing end. I can take a script in which the leads do senseless things – when it comes to love and relationships, often the things we do in real life don’t make sense either. What I can’t take is a movie that’s serious in tone getting unexpectedly precious which takes me right out of the experience. There are some things here that work, enough for me to give it an average rating but I hope that Wein continues to grow as a filmmaker and tries a few other environments other than the one discussed. I think he needs to be taken out of his comfort zone a bit in order to be a better filmmaker, although in all fairness this was a local production made on a microscopic budget that probably wouldn’t cover office supplies on a major studio release. I can commend the movie for not looking or feeling that it was made on the cheap but I just wish it took a less consciously hip tone.

WHY RENT THIS: A rare realistic look at a relationship’s end. Some good performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Once again, awfully New York-centric. Some cutesy-pie moments derail the movie’s overall tone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The New York Times did an article on the film’s production, praising it as an example of “sweat equity” or the use of alternative methods to acquire cast, crew and production funding.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: A photo tutorial.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $77,389 on a $15,000 production budget; the movie was quite profitable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Uncertainty

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Deadline