Monday, March 7, 2011

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)

If you've never seen Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), it was loosely based on the book of the same name.  And, by "loosely," I mean that they are both about sex.  A Woody Allen written and directed movie about sex might not sound like the greatest idea now, but this was back when the man was actually funny, and not just clever.  This isn't a traditional film, though.  Instead of having a plot, it is a series of vignettes that are unrelated, except for sharing the common theme of sex.  There are no common characters and there isn't really any through line to connect them.  In other words, a comedian had an idea for a few sketches about sex and arbitrarily decided to package them together as a movie.  I don't have a problem with that.  Do you?
There are seven mini stories in this film, but not all of them are equally entertaining.  Part 1 (Do Aphrodisiacs Work?) is set in medieval times, where a court jester (Woody Allen) uses an aphrodisiac on the Queen (Lynn Redgrave) to seduce her.  Allen uses the rapid-fire joke approach here, which means that there are some good jokes, but a lot of bad ones; if you're a fan of "comedic" Hamlet references, though, this is your Holy Grail.  Part 2 (What is Sodomy?) is the tale of a doctor (Gene Wilder) that falls in love with a sheep.  Obviously, this is an incredibly stupid sketch, and the highlight of the movie for me.  This bit is Gene Wilder in all his early-70s glory, and features the best single take (not a double take) in film history.  Part 3 (Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching Orgasm?) has Allen again, but this time he discovers that the only way for his far-too-attractive-for-him wife (and actual ex-spouse) to climax is to have sex in public.  This bit is filmed entirely in Italian, which actually helps make this funnier.  Part 4 (Are Transvestites Homosexuals?) has a man getting caught dressing up in women's clothing; I'm sure this is knee-slapping fun in England, but it made me yawn.  Part 5 (What Are Sex Perverts?) is a little better, focusing on a game show where Regis Philbin (who only looks to be about 75 years old at the time) and a few other celebrities try to guess someone's perversion.  It's not a great sketch, but I laughed when I saw part of a rabbi's fantasy included his wife eating pork.  Part 6 (Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research and Experiments Accurate?) has Woody starring again, this time opposite John Carradine.  The bit has Carradine as a mad scientist interested in sex that releases a gigantic killer breast on an unsuspecting public.
If that sounds stupid to you, then I think Allen achieved what he was aiming for.  Part 7 (What Happens During Ejaculation?) is the most star-studded sketch of the film, with Tony Randall, a gum-chewing Burt Reynolds, and Allen again.  Randall and Reynolds work inside the brain of a man on a date, and try to control the rest of the body to make sure that this date ends in successful sex.  The sperm (including a nervous Allen) are, more or less, paratroopers waiting to invade a foreign territory and terrified at all the non-fallopian places they can end up.

So, yeah, this is a bunch of skits shoved into a movie format.  While not the first time a movie has struggled with the film format to show off some silly sketches (Casino Royale - 1967, anyone?), and it certainly wouldn't be the last time (Kentucky Fried Movie), Everything... is an interesting film in its own right.  Not all the sketches work well --- the cross-dressing sketch and the game show are notable examples --- but this movie best encapsulates Woody Allen's early phase: try to get as many laughs as possible, all the time.  However, the scenes that work best in the movie (the Italian film tribute and Gene Wilder's sheep loving) show off different aspects of Allen's talent.  The Italian sketch might maintain the three-jokes-a-minute pace of the rest of the film, but it has Allen playing against type as a cool, sexy man; it also shows his first tendency to imitate/emulate the works of great directors, like Fellini.  The sheep sketch has the slowest pace of the entire film, but the biggest laughs; it's hard to believe, but this is the most understated sketch in the whole movie, relying on timing and delivery more than dialogue or physical comedy for its laughs.  When you look at Allen's filmography, it might be initially surprising that there are only two movies separating this silliness from Annie Hall, but there are some signs of creative growth here, hidden amongst all the goofiness.

Enough about the big picture, how does the movie stand up on its own?  Surprisingly well, actually.  I'm not going to lie and tell you that all parts of the film have aged well, or that Woody Allen is a genius that can do no wrong --- at least three of the seven sketches in this film are either unfunny or yawn-inducing.  The bits that work, though, work well.  There is plenty of slapstick physical comedy, there is some absurdist humor, and there are some moderately conceptual jokes.  In other words, there is something here for everyone, and at a pace so rapid fire that you barely have time to laugh at the jokes you like, much less groan at the ones you don't.  This certainly isn't a great film for acting or directing, but it's as silly as it intends to be, and funnier than it has any right to be.
...and that's for a movie that is 3/7 junk!  I kind of wish that Allen had just added these sketches as film shorts to show before his other movies, but whatever.  Pure dumb fun, and worth the price of admission just to see Gene Wilder and Woody Allen work together in their prime.

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