Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Gene Wilder, Lynn Redgrave, Heather MacRae, John Carradine, Louise Lasser, Burt Reynolds, Lou Jacobi, Erin Fleming
Plot: Based on a self-help book of the same name, Woody Allen directs seven short films discussing various pressing questions about sex.
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask), is a bit of a weird film. If it wasn’t for the sound footing of Woody Allen’s usual brand of dry and self-depreciating humour, it would almost be entirely alienating. While it shares the name of a popular self-help book about the various studies of sexual activity, the source material is little more than an excuse to get the ball rolling in terms of narrative. Woody Allen takes seven of the questions in the book and uses them as a header for each of his sketches buried in the movie. So therefore, approaching this film as a critic is a little tricky, because we aren’t so much reviewing a feature film, but seven separate short films tied into one feature-length showing. The end result is a mixed one.
Let’s start by explaining what each of the shorts entail. Short one: “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?” Set in Medieval times, Woody Allen stars as a court jester who is tasked with fulfilling the prophecy of bedding the Queen in order to save his father who died during childbirth (don’t ask). However, because the Queen will not ‘screw below her station’, Allen is forced to brew an aphrodisiac potion to get her into bed. And that’s not even touching upon her angry husband who is likely to behead anyone who so much looks at her lustfully. Short two: “What is sodomy?” Gene Wilder’s local GP ends up treating a man who is in love with a sheep, a case that becomes tricky when Wilder falls in love with the sheep as well. Short three: “Why Do Some Women Have Some Trouble Reaching Orgasm?” This short pretty much plays out exactly how the title suggests with the exception of Woody Allen directing it with the style of Italian cinema. Short four: “Are Transvestites Homosexuals?” Lou Jacobi’s pleasant middle-aged man is invited to a posh dinner party, where he finds himself unable to resist trying on his host’s wardrobe, escalating into a very amusing case of mistaken identity. Short five: “What Are Sex Perverts?” Less a short and more of a parody of television game shows. Guest star, Jack Barry, cameos as himself as the host of a game show titled “What’s My Perversion?” A guest will come onto the show and the panel have to guess his perversion by asking questions. Short six: Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research and Experiments Accurate? This is clearly where most of the time and money went into this film as a whole. Woody Allen puts his full effort into recreating an amusing homage, or parody, of both the 30s Gothic horror films, along the lines of Dracula, and then turning that genre into a Roger Corman B Movie style affair, ie: The Blob or Piranha. It is longer than you might think, travelling at breakneck speed, cramming in Heather MacRae’s earnest, beautiful reporter, a creepy haunted house and then an all-out battle with a sentient tit floating around the countryside. Yeah, again, please don’t ask. It makes little sense in writing and even less sense when you see it in person. The final short, What Happens During Ejaculation, is worth keeping quiet about until the final paragraph, so watch this space.
On the whole, I was highly disappointed with Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex. The short format is something I have never been a fan of, especially here where its addition feels slightly below par and forced. The best anthology movies have a bridging device. Even the atrocious Movie 43 saw fit to try and tie together its sketches with some form of narrative. Woody Allen simply ends one and starts another, creating a slightly disjointed feel to this early movie of his. It is hard to build up enough traction to care about the characters by the time it opens and closes. The shorts in general are also only slightly good. There will be a lot of chuckles, but very few genuine laughs. Most of the shorts have a good central idea. Even the stranger sounding synopsis offered above all, at some point in their execution, show flashes of promise. Woody Allen’s sense of humour is always on show, especially in the first short, where his trademark humour is thrown into Medieval times. He is just self-aware and apathetic enough to hit home with a few gags. However, most of the time, the central idea loses its way. Sometimes this is due to the sketch format. The B Movie pastiche moves just a bit too fast, rushing through its content, and sadly weighed down by a few jokes that unavoidably miss the mark by a country mile. There are times when Woody Allen is just too ambitious. The Italian sketch is a bold move by the director and really pushes him as a writer. The entire short is told in the Italian language, so it has to tell its stroy through visuals. This was a really interesting concept, but I don’t think it is delivered well enough to really praise. It uses its title about the lead female struggling to reach orgasm to clue its audience into why Louise Lasser is so conflicted in the story, but struggles to land any of its other beats. It is a shame, because there are a few strong moments. Gene Wilder is a welcome face to see, his comic timing exactly what this film needs. When he first learns his patient has intercourse with a sheep, the pause as his face has time to catch up with his mind is truly fantastic, taking the recommended time and then going on for another few beats. It is one of those gems of a joke that should count towards the Gene Wilder highlight reel. Then there are moments where each short rolls together in a snowball sort of way, so it does eventually get you giggling. However, while perfectly watchable, there is always the feeling that Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex could have been a whole lot better.
Which brings us to the final short. By this point, our expectations are low and we don’t really expect much. However, either by accident or a purposeful move, Allen has saved the best to last. Almost like a R-Rated version of Disney’s Inside Out, we are thrust inside a man’s body, as several workers control his actions on a date with the possiblity of leading to sex. Cue the brain acting as an Apollo 13 like control room, stressed office workers pacing nervously about. The erection is triggered by greasy musclemen, cranking the lever to get the ‘tool’ into operation. And best of all, Woody Allen himself, cameos as a single sperm preparing himself for the possiblity he could be being launched into the great unknown. The sketch cuts between each setting and is played out qith rapid fire precision. For once, every joke works, rolling into a hilarious ten minute finish. So in conclusion, Woody Allen has created a film about sex that awkwardly fumbles around for an hour and a quarter, before ending with a strong, pleasurable bang. Perhaps he is more on the nose than I first thought.
Final Verdict: Early Woody Allen can always be a disappointing viewing, especially with this early mixed bag of jokes.