It’s been awhile since I’ve watched a romantic comedy and even longer since I’ve watched a good romantic comedy, so I was actually a bit blown away by “Strictly Sexual,” a 2008 independent film directed by Joel Viertel and starring Amber Benson of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” television fame.
“Strictly Sexual” was never given a theatrical release, but the film has found great success in the home video market, both on DVD and through streaming video providers such as Amazon and Hulu. National Public Radio reported in 2010 that “Strictly Sexual” had become Hulu’s single most-watched movie of all time.
Writer and co-star Stevie Long also told NPR the film had generated more than 10 times its $100,000 production cost, no small feat for an independent film.
Sex sells, as evidenced by the film’s title, but “Strictly Sexual” isn’t strictly about sex.
“Really the movie is about love and intimacy,” Long told NPR. “But if I was to title the film ‘Love and Intimacy,’ I’m sure that people would think it’s pretentious and never watch it.”
The film is a lot of things, but pretentious is not one of them.
“Strictly Sexual” depicts a variety of sexual situations ranging from tender to tawdry over its 100-minute running time, but there’s no nudity in the film — its R rating is attributable more to the profanity-laden script than the stars’ bedroom exploits. Several strongly sexual situations do play out on screen, but they’re more comical in nature than prurient.
The plot revolves around Donna (Benson), a Hollywood screenwriter who lives with her clothing-designer best friend, Christi Ann (Kristen Kerr). Tired of the emotional entanglements which come with relationships, the pair decide to just focus on satisfying their physical needs — and it’s all fun and games until somebody falls in love.
The ladies meet a pair of out-of-work construction workers from New York at a bar known to be frequented by male prostitutes and mistake them for gigolos. Donna is immediately drawn to “bad boy” Stanny (Long), while Christi Ann connects with the good-hearted but also somewhat slow-witted Joe (Johann Urb).
In one of several memorable exchanges during that first encounter, Donna remarks to clothing designer Christi Ann that she recently saw a woman at a coffee shop wearing one of Christi Ann’s new shirts. Joe takes this to mean Christi Ann must have had her clothes stolen from the dryer at a laundromat and starts relating a story of how that once happened to him, much to the chagrin of Stanny. “Oh, you invent clothes,” Joe finally comes to understand.
The women invite the men back to their house thinking they’ve just picked up a couple prostitutes and don’t discover their comical error until the next morning when they try to “settle up.” The men are initially outraged and storm out, but Joe points out they could really use the money since they’ve been unable to find construction jobs in California and are in danger of being evicted from their motel.
Joe goes back to sheepishly ask for the money they were originally offered and Christi Ann hatches an idea to let the guys live in the women’s pool house until they can get back on their feet. There’s one condition, though: the men must be willing to service the women sexually upon request.
“We don’t want boyfriends, we don’t want relationships,” Donna says forthrightly. “We want two guys to service us. This is strictly sexual. You’re on-call 24 hours.”
In an effort to avoid being marginalized, the men insist on two conditions of their own: satellite television and beer.
It’s this accentuation of gender stereotypes for comedic effect coupled with a deeper philosophical exploration of the male-female power dynamic that helps make “Strictly Sexual” so entertaining. In tilting paradigms, strong becomes weak and weak becomes strong.
The dialogue is at times crass but consistently witty, the script’s pacing often frenetic and all four actors deliver solid performances, although Long’s is uneven at times. Kerr’s sweetly neurotic performance as Christi Ann, in particular, is a joy to watch, reminiscent of Courteney Cox in her prime.
Joe and Stanny are also mildly evocative of the Jay and Silent Bob characters created by Kevin Smith in 1994’s “Clerks.” If you enjoy Smith’s films, you’ll likely enjoy this one.
How you spend your next movie night is up to you. If it were up to me, however, I’d make sure it was “Strictly Sexual.”