Judge Eric Profancik knows better than to spit into the wind.
With friends like these, who needs family?
Billed as an "educational film," Relax…It's Just Sex!'s goal appears to be to inform the viewer that homosexuals aren't all that different than heterosexuals. They live their lives, face the same kinds of problems, and work to be as happy as possible. We all have our ups and downs, regardless of sexual orientation, so it's time for society to move beyond its hang-ups about who is doing what to whom. We're all made of the same stuff, living on the same planet, wanting the same things out of life. And does it really matter whom we love? According to this film, it certainly doesn't. So, relax…it's just sex.
Facts of the Case
We are introduced to a group of friends who cover the entire spectrum of sexuality, and we follow them through their daily routines. There are highs and there are lows, and we see how events ripple and how this close-knit bunch interacts.
I didn't go into great detail about Relax in my "Facts" because there isn't all that much that goes on. And I don't want to spoil what little there is for you if you end up seeing this film. As I said up front, Relax sees itself as a film working to break down some of society's barriers about homosexuality. It wants you to realize that we are all the same. Whether or not Relax actually succeeds in that goal is something we'll go into in short measure.
But first, let's discuss the ragtag group of characters featured in this film:
• Tara (Jennifer Tilly, Bound): She is the "mother" of the group, who is working diligently with her boyfriend to become a mother. She desperately wants a child, and she desperately loves her friends. In some circles, Tara would be called a fag hag. Will she ever get pregnant?
• Gus: Gus is Tara's boyfriend and is confused about his relationship with her. He loves her deeply but isn't sure he's ready for that level of commitment. Will he stay with her or will he dash?
• Vincey (Mitchell Anderson, Doogie Howser, M.D.): Tara's best friend, Vincey is the lovelorn, single gay male who is having trouble finding Mr. Right. He's also a budding writer with hopes of making it some day. Will he ever find love?
• Robin (Lori Petty, Tank Girl): Known as the butch lesbian, Robin is an open and passionate woman who has always desired a serious relationship with Sarina. Will that relationship ever come to be?
• Sarina: Currently in a long-term relationship with Megan, Sarina is about to realize what makes a relationship work. Will this relationship last?
• Megan (Serena Scott Thomas, The World is Not Enough): She is the other half of the nine-year relationship with Sarina. Together, they are seen as lipstick lesbians, but Megan causes trouble when she thinks she really might like boys. Will she stay with Sarina?
• Javi: The most effeminate member of the group, Javi has just learned that he has AIDS. He is also Gus's brother. Will he be ravaged by AIDS?
• Buzz: A "famous to some" artist, Buzz has recently lost his boyfriend to AIDS. He has some very strong and unique opinions about the disease and the treatments available. Originally brought into the circle by Vincey, Buzz soon hooks up with Javi. Is he right about AIDS?
• Diego and Dwight: This beautiful couple of gay men—also referred to as gym queens—is happy and successful. They have a nearly perfect relationship, which often nauseates their friends, and they are also deeply religious. Will they ever have a real fight?
• Auntie Mahalia (Paul Winfield, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan): Just a minor character, Auntie is a flamboyant older gay male who helps Vincey in a moment of crisis. Will he come back for a second scene?
I believe that in order to achieve the film's "educational" goal, Relax wanted to create a diverse cast that was beyond all the stereotypes of the community. As is readily apparent from my brief descriptions, all of the characters are easily pigeonholed and still cliché. This film is a veritable lineup of all the major gay food groups. In fact, as I watched the film, I could see how hard it was to create the diversity while showing us how homosexuals and heterosexuals are the same. And in this tug of war, I had a notion of "anti-cliché" forming in my mind. I'm not sure what exactly that means, even now, but here's what's running around my head. As clichéd and tired as these characters are, they don't always act in "typical" stereotypical fashion. At times, they distinctly do the untraditional to prove how regular they are. This sense of "trying" (too hard) is what I'm getting at with "anti-cliché." We'll prove to you that we're all the same, even if we have to do something utterly radical to prove it. In some instances, this anti-cliché behavior is almost believable, but in most it's not. It's simply complications and changes forced upon us by the script to prove a point.
There are some other problems with Relax that distracted me from enjoying the movie. Most notably are the numerous shortcuts taken to tell the story. I really didn't care for the "confessional interviews" the characters performed for the camera. It's a technique that doesn't work too often because it shatters the illusion of the movie. In addition, the story just randomly hops around without much logical connection or flow, making me wonder what the movie was all about. Was there anything more, beyond the "educational" aspect of the film? Was I supposed to be enjoying the movie? To that, Relax comes across as preachy. It doesn't want to be, but it doesn't have enough finesse to eloquently tell this story. And there are just too many characters in this ensemble fighting for space. Did we really need Diego and Dwight? What did they bring to the story? Lastly, and sadly, not all of our actors are very good. It's obvious when you pool such a mixed bag of talent into an ensemble film. The best actor really outshines the worst here.
In the end, Relax doesn't quite succeed at being a solid "educational" film, and I can't say I learned much. I don't think any stereotypes were shattered nor disproved. And I don't believe this film will have any crossover appeal. When the film was done, I just sat back and wondered what the point was. What was I supposed to learn from these people?
The transfers on Relax…It's Just Sex! have some good points and some bad points. First off, the video transfer has been slashed to full frame only. As a result, my score was halved for this travesty. Beyond that, the video did look solid except for some quick dirt and speckles at the beginning. Other than that, colors, blacks, details, and saturation were all nicely done. Turning to the audio, you have a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix with a problem: echoing. In many scenes, dialogue has an echo to it. It's akin to when you turn on a "hall" effect on your receiver. It doesn't sound natural. If you get past that, the rest is pretty good. Sadly, there are no subtitles included.
This is not a bare-bones disc, offering fans a few additional morsels. The main item is an audio commentary with Jennifer Tilly, Lori Petty, and (producer) Steven Wolfe. It's not a bad track at all. The three are animated and tell a lot of good stories. For those who enjoyed the film, you will find a lot to enjoy here. There are also (three) deleted scenes, a blooper reel (7.5 minutes), and trailers for Latter Days and Bulgarian Lovers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For a film made on a paper-thin $250,000 budget, there is much to be proud about. Despite its indie roots, Relax has the feel and look of a major motion picture. With well-used locations, a strong group of actors (Tilly, Petty, and Warfield), and nice direction and cinematography, Relax easily belies its origins. If it weren't for some of the more graphic gay scenes, it's possible this movie could have had more crossover appeal.
I cannot recommend this film for either rental or purchase. I know it was meant to be "educational," but that goal failed for me. As for simply enjoying the ebb and flow of the film, I can't say that happened either. In trying to dispel those awful homosexual clichés, Relax ends up embracing them and embellishing them. There are many gay films out there with a positive message, but this isn't necessarily one of them. While its positive portrayal of this strong group of friends is redeeming, it fails to honestly show how events from one person would actually ripple throughout. Events, scares, and joys come and go with the greatest of ease. Relax…It's Just Sex! weaves too much of a Hollywood fairy tale.
Relax…It's Just Sex! is hereby found guilty of lewd conduct. It is sentenced to ninety days community service.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
• Audio Commentary with Jennifer Tilly, Lori Petty, and Steven Wolfe
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