Relax...it's Just Sex Movie Review

After a deliriously funny title sequence that mocks thedorky and dated educational film style of the 1950s, "Relax...It'sJust Sex" threatens for the next 30 minutes to become another cloneof "Jeffrey," seemingly the touchstone for cross-over gay cinema.

The titles begin with a black-and white-sequence explaining,tongue-in-cheek, certain terms that might not be familiar to any heterosexualsin the audience:

"This is a lipstick lesbian," a monotoned narratordeclares, then proceeds to explain the term while two women kiss. "See?that wasn't so bad," the narrator deadpans. Then it's, "Thisis a gym queen," as two oily, smooth and sculpted guys on the screen...

Hug.

"We hope this has been informative. Enjoy the show!"

Then cue the none-too-subtle sex scene (with two guys doinga lot more than hugging), accompanied a considerably less clinical voice-overabout the great spit or swallow debate, and I'm not talking toothpaste.

This transition is a hilarious commentary on mainstreamacceptance of the gay lifestyles, but the next couple of reels can't keepup as "Relax" visits some shopworn gay dramedy territory whilewe get to know a frustrated playwright and commitment-phobe in denial (MitchellAnderson), who spends an awful lot of time whining about the elusivenessof romance to his "fag hag" best friend (Jennifer Tilly).

Tilly is den mother to a troupe of thirty-ish cohorts whoeventually turn this picture into a respectable ensemble piece after itstops tripping over queer cinema cliches and gets cozy with the characters-- even if it does at times feel like "Friends" with mathematicallyprecise social and ethnic diversity.

There's Tilly, whose biological clock is ticking like atime bomb, and her Hispanic boyfriend with a serious case of wanderlustand only one airline ticket. There's the boyfriend's HIV-positive (somebodyhad to be) brother and his militant, black, AIDS-is-a-conspiracy boyfriend,an artist who paints Christ figures with IV needles substituting for thecrown of thorns.

For the sake of comedic irony there's a irksomely blissful,conservative Christian, gay preppie couple. And lets not forget the lesbianbed death couple, whose relationship is broken up by a man.

Turns out that's by far the film's most interesting story.While it starts weak with a breakup scene in which the eight-year lovers(Serena Scott Thomas and Cynda Williams) come across more like strangers,the love triangle that develops as a result is full of complex and forcefulemotion.

Williams ("One False Move") starts a relationshipwith sporty Lori Petty (finally playing a lesbian), who falls hard forher and becomes wildly insecure comparing herself to the beautiful andvery femme ex.

Meanwhile Scott Thomas toys with a hetro relationship and,in a twist played for great laughs, takes heat from her socialite parentswho had accepted their daughter's lifestyle for politically correct reasonsand now worry aloud, "What are we going to say to our friends as PFLAG?"

Written and directed by P.J. Castellaneta ("TogetherAgain"), "Relax..." struggles at times with poorly definedcharacters and a plot that lurches forward only when something traumaticor controversial happens (there's a shocking twist to a gay bashing episodethat's likely to spark some interesting debate).

But thanks to the grand efforts of the entire cast to fleshout their characters, the acting bridges the movie's gay cliches, fits-and-startsstory and occasional over-sincerity.

Petty is especially outstanding as the sporty dyke witha femininity complex. A performance like this in a mainstream film mightgarner Oscar buzz.

Also take note of veteran actor Paul Winfield ("TheTerminator," "The Women of Brewster Place," "MarsAttacks!") in a revealing cameo as Anderson's,um, fairy godfather -- an older friend with an understanding shoulder anda head full of reassuring wisdom.


Comments

Relax...it's Just Sex Rating

" Weak "

Rating: Unrated, Friday, February 26, 1999

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