SEX APPEAL – Review by Tara McNamara

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The teen sex comedy. The genre dominated the ‘80s and, as logic would have it, was a terrible idea. The sheer quantity of these films, with a formula of horny boys trying to figure ways to mount girls who clearly just needed some convincing, led young viewers to draw a conclusion: If you’re in high school, your primary focus should be getting some. Not surprisingly, teen pregnancy rates skyrocketed and after game parties got rapey. Eventually, thankfully, the genre got tired and mostly disappeared. No coincidence, teen pregnancies are down.

In the last five years, the word is finally out that consent is a crucial part of foreplay. In this bold new post-MeToo world, Hulu is positing a hypothesis: can the raunchy high school hump fest be revived if it comes from a female point-of-view, given a sex positive scenario, and feature socially progressive characters?

The experiment: Sex Appeal, a comedy about a science-focused heterosexual high school senior who turns her “first time” into her school project.

Outcome: Inconclusive. Not humorous, not helpful, and definitely not for everyone.

Directed by Talia Osteen and written by Tate Hanyoc, Sex Appeal follows Avery (Mika Abdalla), an emotionally devoid high school senior who has already been accepted to MIT on a full ride, but hangs on to every letter grade and achievement like it still matters. Avery has an equally brilliant yet long-distance boyfriend Casper (Mason Versaw), whom she hasn’t seen in person since their initial coupling at last year’s “STEMCon.” With the annual high school tech event several months away, Casper tells Avery over videoconference that when they are finally reunited, he’s “DTF.” And then, he translates: “Down to Fuck.”



Okay, then.


Avery, being something of an emotionless robot person, hears her man will be expecting intercourse and interprets that she 1) must have sex with him because that’s what he wants … and it’s 2022 so that’s also what she wants ????, and 2) decides that her STEMCon competition project will be an app guiding users to good sex, therefore, her – and their – first encounter will be spectacular.

Avery does her research through those classic ‘80s and ‘90s movies (occasionally, with a synthy ‘80s score, one of many winks to the genre). Not surprisingly, she learns the films of yore don’t provide any useful sexual information. She is the product of three lesbian mothers who are artists: They contribute to her sex education by replacing paintings of vaginas on the wall with sculptures of erect penises. Also, not particularly helpful. So, Avery turns to her fellow students on the ways and wisdoms of sexual intercourse. Quizzing them regularly to input their responses into her algorithm, she hears a laundry list of base descriptions of sex acts and positions, such as “squirting” and “tittyfuck.” To confirm the accuracy of the data, she makes herself the test subject and recruits her only friend, Larson (Jake Short), to try out the varying methodologies on her.

In other words, the plot is taking the idea of sexual “experimentation” and making a scientific joke out of it. Got it.

Larson questions how this isn’t cheating on poor Casper, and if this is really a good idea for him — or for her, for that matter. They move through such ethical issues quickly. But, we, the audience, don’t. It’s icky. They are kids – more icky. Then, there’s the bombardment of crude sexual lingo that comes at us like machine gun fire from the other high school students. Drowning in ick.

Raunchy sex comedies can be a lot of fun, like Sex and the City. Or very offensive, like Freddy Got Fingered. The titles of these films say it all: one is provocative, the other repellent. There is a line.

In the case of Sex Appeal, it’s going to be hard for many to find humor in a very young woman who feels like she needs to please a man so that she goes through all the sex acts with someone else first, just so their first time won’t be disappointing. And, if watching a minor learn how to get her knob off isn’t uncomfortable enough, our ears are punched with Avery’s fellow students listing sexual acts like they’re reading the category selections on a porn site. Porn is a lot of things, but it’s not funny, especially once you add the word “high school.”

But, comedy changes. And. the question here is: How will Sex Appeal‘s jokes hit younger viewers?

Coarse sex talk is a mark of the 2020s. The unregulated nature of streaming services and podcasts are allowing for a free-for-all in the new frontier of broadcast space, and Generation Z is embracing straight-forward sex talk as the norm. Some of broadcast’s biggest and most award worthy hits are helping to usher in this kind of conversation. In HBO’s Succession, adult siblings lace nearly all their conversation with sexual metaphors, often joking about one son’s desire to sleep with his mom. Hulu’s The Great has a recurring reference to the Empress having sex with a horse, featuring the most crass use of words in every script. The difference here is that the main characters are awful, and each vulgarity rings like a gong, reminding us they are the worst. And, if it needs to be said, no one is a minor. But, the young rarely receive the messages we adults try to send, and for them, blunt and graphic sexual talk is becoming just every day conversation. And, remember Beevis and Butthead: Immature humor is funny to the immature.

While this how-to guide is in no way clever and does nothing good for the representation of women, there’s a chance that teens may find Sex Appeal to be appealing. But, for most adults, it’s more likely to be appalling.

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Tara McNamara

Tara McNamara has carved out a niche as a movie journalist with expertise in family films, including serving as the Fandango’s Film Mom and a Common Sense Media movie critic. She led the recurring "Reel Moms" segment on “Today," was Variety's news anchor on Sirius Radio and a regular contributor to "The Insider," "Entertainment Tonight," and "Inside Edition." She currently runs and co-hosts the '80s Movies: A Guide to What's Wrong with Your Parents podcast.