Relax… It’s A Good Movie

Ignore this flick's silly name

I have to confess. I was all prepared to hate PJ Castellaneta’s film Relax… It’s Just Sex. With the dumb title, the television-star ensemble and the queer Big Chill plot, things didn’t look too promising from the outset.

Dammit if I didn’t end up finding it hilarious, heart-wrenching and occasionally insightful. Which shouldn’t have been a surprise, coming from the filmmaker who brought us the 1991 independent, award-winning gem, Together Alone. If you missed it, don’t worry, almost everyone did. Relax… is your opportunity to correct that omission.

The story follows the flights and follies of a dozen queer characters played by a diverse cast that includes Mitchell Anderson (Party Of Five), Jennifer Tilly (Bound), Lori Petty (Tank Girl), Cynda Williams (Tales Of The City) and TC Carson (Living Single), amongst others.

There’s the dyke couple breaking up because one finds a man. There’s the looney tunes den mother trying to get pregnant by her non-committal boyfriend: “I want your sperm! I need your sperm!” There’s the happy, happy, joy, joy, conservative, god-fearing, gym-boy couple. And then there’s our perennially single protagonist, Vincey.

But let’s start with the irritating bits. The story is structured around issues and not characters or events in their lives. There’s religion, bashing and bisexuality. There’s an HIV/AIDS debate over dinner that’s so heavy handed that even Castellaneta’s characters comment that it killed all the fun.

Whenever we collide with one of these issues, it’s clunky, artificial and the plot grinds to a halt. But just as you begin to hate the director for his preachy ways, he saves himself by making the next scene all the more emotionally intense because it is informed by the previous political discussion.

A couple, with one member HIV-positive, rail at each other, caught in the personal angst of whether to place their faith in drug treatments. The motley gang of queers consent to a dinnertime prayer for their dear friend, Vincey, who’s going through a dark period in isolation. And Vincey comes into his own as a queer media star after an unpredictable brush with violence.

Whether these are accidental or well engineered moments of Brechtian alienation is irrelevant. In the end what they accomplish is a movie that is, in one step, academic debate and in the next step, an overwhelming touch with intimacy.

Relax… It’s Just Sex opens Fri, Jul 30 at the Carlton (20 Carlton St; 598-2309).

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