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    Sex in the Movies: When Less Is More

    By Jan Wahl–

    The film Bros is a good satire that is also fresh and funny. The scenes with the LBGTQ Museum grand opening and the people voting on how to run it were my favorite moments. Its basic premise, concerning fear of commitment that can be so profound for nearly everyone, and showing how people now often text instead of speak to each other are perfect for our weird tech times. The leading actors are engaging, although Billy Eichner’s character wove in and out of total obnoxiousness. But Billy’s neurotic behavior made the differences between our two lovers real, revealing that opposites do often attract. I found myself rooting for their success, which is always good for a romcom. 

    When I heard the film was not doing well across the country (of course, it has been killing box office here and in other happening cities), I felt a sense of frustration. I fully appreciate that it was the movie the filmmakers wanted to make, and I applaud their courage and creativity. If the sex had not been so graphic, though, it would have done better with the people who need the important messages the most. 

    I understand how multi partners keep our superb leading man Luke Macfarlane from commitment, but seeing the actual shots of it all was not necessary. There! I’ve said it. Sorry, but we all are entitled to our opinions, and for me, it would have been possible for the filmmakers to show almost all of the sex partners without the graphic imagery. The same goes for a bit of the sex language itself. We all know the physiology of it, but hearing it suddenly takes us out of the story and characters. I know that to many of you this sounds conservative—I am so not!—but the film would have been easier to market without these two elements. Still, it is a smart, good romantic comedy that will find a strong cult following—and arguably it already has.

    I had a similar reaction to Blonde on Netflix this year; it presents a deep dive into the life of Marilyn Monroe. There is an excellent performance by Ana de Armas, who is way too thin for the role but has the voice down perfectly. Two of my all-time favorite actors, Adrian Brody and Bobby Cannavale, are excellent as Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio. I write this as not only a stone-cold Monroe fan, but also as someone who is quite knowledgeable about her. So why is it that, after viewing this very long, intense film, the image of her nightmarish sex with Darryl Zanuck remains at the forefront? Yes, Marilyn went through those experiences on her way to stardom, but to show them so graphically was itself exploitive. A fade out would have been more effective. We don’t need to see her humiliation to feel it. Therein lies the art of filmmaking.

    Alfred Hitchcock used to complain about what he referred to as “today’s sink to sink movies. You are home washing dishes in the sink, then you go out to the cinema and watch people wash dishes in the sink. Where is the art?”

    Here are a few movies that got the sex on cinema just right, in my opinion:

    Brokeback Mountain is one of the all-time great romances; it reveals the intense attraction of men who fight their desire for each other until they can’t. The relationship of Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger is what we are left with, not being able to quit each other while fighting with repression and fear. Their sex scenes are filled with desire, and we get to fill in the rest. The film builds us up to their lovemaking and then does not show every detail, which actually heightens the sexiness and romance.

    Sometimes a moment of film dialogue stays in my life permanently. One example is from Lawrence Kasdan’s script for Body Heat. Kathleen Turner’s sultry vixen says to befuddled William Hurt, “You’re not very bright. I like that in a man.” But his character is compelling, such that Turner becomes engulfed in his passion. Their red-hot heat of desire leaves the rest to our imaginations, which is often where the hottest moments happen.  

    1996’s Bound uses sexuality to create one of the greatest shots ever of lovemaking. Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly are part of one continuous shot taken from a camera on a crane. Tilly later said in an interview that they did the scene eight times, with the camera set ups using closeups of different body parts. Whatever the technology, it is one beautiful sequence in a classic romantic drama.

    When done artistically, even the most unusual sexual scenes are brilliant. In Boogie Nights, porn star Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) guides her clueless but famously hung costar Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) in a steamy copulation scene. She demonstrates a certain caring for him, a kindness, which gives the scene gravitas. It goes beyond what would be expected, but also focuses on something other than the physical act.

    So, there are many wonderful sex moments that give us desire and depth rather than the physical alone. Find your favorites. It is not a bad homework assignment, right?    

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at

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    Published on November 17, 2022