Autoerotic
Dir. Joe Swanberg & Adam Wingard IFC Films http://www.tinymixtapes.com/sites/default/files/film-autoerotic.jpg

[IFC Films; 2011]

1.5 / 5 (0)

Styles: sex comedy, mumblecore
Others: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, Shortbus


Links: Autoerotic - IFC Films


In the past few years, I have become very interested in the so-called mumblecore genre. Out of all the films that comprise such a “movement,” Joe Swanberg’s stand out for dealing with sexuality in the new millennium in a raw yet mature way. From the early experiments of Kissing on the Mouth to the claustrophobically intimate Nights and Weekends, Swanberg has tackled these issues with an honest, naturalistic style. While lacking the artistic capacity in crafting remarkable scenarios or presenting us with striking cinematography — his films are often rough around the edges — he can certainly boast his movie LOL, one of the most interesting contemporary films to deal with how present-day relations and technology have reshaped our methods of communicating with one another. Swanberg’s central idea seems to be that, no matter how much we communicate, it will never be enough. His characters are often placed in candid conversations and never seem to judge their partners, always open to experimentation and dialogue. We are constantly communicating, but that’s not to say we are connecting (or bonding, to use a less internet-age term) with one another.

Having released four films this year alone, Swanberg teams up this time with Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die) and returns to his recurrent themes of sex and communication in Autoerotic. This time around, he focuses on four different couples dealing with a variety of sexual problems in four non-related segments. In all of these vignettes, the unnamed characters are, in one way or another, incapable of reaching their own satisfactory sexual pleasure, whether it’s a man terribly self-conscious about his penis size or a woman who, no matter how much she tries, can’t get enough sexual pleasure. Whereas in the past Swanberg dealt with similar issues by opting for the raw realist drama format (at times so raw they were closer to the video-diary format than a cinematic piece), this time he relies on the sex comedy as the genre to better portray his message.

As Orson Welles once said, like most movie messages, it can be written on the head of a pin. A good film comes from how the message is portrayed and constructed by using the peculiarities of the cinematic form. This is where Autoerotic fails miserably. Even though the film presents us with the occasional funny moment (such as when the nymphomaniac endlessly lists all the things that turn her on), the film for the most part relies on crude adolescent toilet humor, which becomes entirely misplaced when confronted with some of the candid and intimate scenes between some of the characters. Take, for example, what is possibly the best segment in the film. A pregnant wife finds herself unable to reach orgasm with her boyfriend. The love scene that introduces us to these two characters feels very honest and intimate, a trait Swanberg clearly excels at. Equally well done is when her bisexual friend proposes that she should then help her in reaching sexual climax. This, however, leads to a silly slapstick comedy romp where the boyfriend tries to spy on the two women, turning the whole ordeal into some sort of lost X-rated Mr. Bean sketch.

The most memorable aspect of Autoerotic lies in the bravery of the performers, especially that of Swanberg’s real-life pregnant wife, Kris Swanberg. The sex scenes are often explicit (though it never fully enters hardcore territory) and are acted out with courageous inhibition by the cast. This further increases the disappointment, however, when every opportunity to construct an interesting scene or to convey a thoughtful premise is ignored for more raunchy, juvenile jokes. By treading this narrative path, Swanberg doesn’t present sex as an issue that should be treated lightly and with good humor; he transforms sex into something we chuckle at inside our adolescent bedrooms and nervously point at together with our pubescent friends.