Sony // 2000 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Elizabeth Skipper (Retired) // October 10th, 2003
Three days in the life of a one-night stand
Better Than Sex? What could possibly be better than sex, better than wham-bam-please-leave-before-I-roll-over-and-realize-what-I've-done? One word: intimacy.
But what happens when what's just supposed to be unadulterated, meaningless sex suddenly becomes intimacy? In this case, humor, poignancy, and some frank sexual revelations, that's what.
When Cyn (short for Cynthia) invites Josh upstairs after they share a cab home, it's only supposed to be a one-night stand. And when Josh accepts, it's only supposed to be a one-night stand. After all, he's leaving Australia for London in three days, so anything more than a night of sex and an assumption that they'll never see each other again just isn't feasible.
But Josh finds it difficult to leave the next day, and when he finally does so, he ends up calling from a payphone outside to invite himself back to Cyn's apartment. Soon it's the next day and Josh is beginning to feel comfortable, leaving the seat up and scratching his naked butt as he wanders around the apartment. Perhaps Cyn is feeling a little too comfortable, though, because when she absentmindedly rifles through Josh's wallet and finds a picture of a woman, she allows her jealous reaction to show. Josh bristles at the realization that this is anything more than a fling ("Isn't this supposed to be casual?") and storms out. Strangely, the driver of the cab he hails (the same driver whose cab they shared that first night) intervenes and refuses to let Josh leave so easily.
By the next evening, the two could easily have been married for decades, as he playfully picks on the hours it takes for her to get ready. And, if this weren't a movie, they'd be well on their way to such a destination. But it is, and they seem to have forgotten that Josh is supposed to leave the next day to return to his home in London. We soon find out how they'll handle the reality check.
I'd like to call Better Than Sex a "cute" movie because it's endearing, entertaining, and funny, but I fear that by doing so I'll gloss over its quality and make you believe it's nothing more than a trite romantic comedy. And, in many ways, it is (a romantic comedy, not trite), but it's so much more as well. It's filled with some of the smartest dialogue I've heard, it's well acted, and it's visually striking.
The charm of this film is not in the plot, but in the details. It's the detailed analysis of the finer points of oral sex; it's Josh's thoughts as he tries to delay orgasm; it's Cyn's explanation of her insecurities surrounding her friend. In other words, it's the dialogue. Witty yet realistic, emotional without becoming sappy, Better Than Sex is quite sharply written.
Giving this sharp writing a voice are the two lead actors, who occupy about 90 percent of the screen time. The two have undeniable chemistry, which is demonstrated in sex scenes and humorous scenes alike, so a scene with them merely lying in bed talking mundanely (though realistically, of course) becomes alive and real with their presence. And their talent transcends the good writing; some of the best moments are their passing glances and nearly unnoticeable gestures as Josh and Cyn interact with and adapt to each other.
In addition to its laudable script, Better Than Sex is a visual beauty, with remarkable shots and innovative angles. I was particularly impressed with one scene later in the movie that shows only their four feet as Josh and Cyn get dressed. Unfortunately, the disc's video transfer doesn't quite do this visual artistry justice. It's not horrible -- the only real error I saw was some brief flecks of dirt -- but it's nowhere near the quality I'd expect for this film. Happily, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is of a much higher caliber than the video presentation. Except for being a little heavy on the bass, I was quite impressed with this mix.
Other than three trailers for Better Than Sex, I'm With Lucy, and Punch-Drunk Love, this is a bare-bones disc.
The Rebuttal Witness
The only quibble I have with Better Than Sex is the presence of the taxi driver in the story. This deus ex machina in a cab just isn't necessary; the chemistry was there, the commonalities were there, so we would have believed it when Josh changed his own mind and returned to Cyn's apartment. Having an outside force influence him was a jarring superfluity.
It may be so much more than a romantic comedy (in my opinion, anyway), but Better Than Sex is most decidedly a chick flick. I can think of very few men, if any, who would enjoy this film, and I can think of very few women, if any, who wouldn't. Therefore, if you're male, don't bother. If you're female, give it a try. At an asking price of over $20 for a feature-less disc, though, a rental would be your best bet.
For feeding my romantic side and allowing me to hope that at least a few men are still capable of intimacy, Better Than Sex is cleared of all charges.
Review content copyright © 2003 Elizabeth Skipper; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Trailers for Better Than Sex, I'm With Lucy, Punch-Drunk Love