Directed by: Talia Osteen
Premise: An overachieving teenager (Mika Abdalla) must develop an app for a STEM competition. She researches sexuality to create an app that will maximize satisfaction and efficiency but she finds that the nuances of romance elude her mathematical thinking.
What Works: The premise of Sex Appeal sounds like the conceit of a porn film from the 1980s. Sex Appeal is not that. The movie is sexually frank without being visually explicit. Filmmaker Talia Osteen uses the camera in some interesting ways, finding unusual angles in the intimate scenes. Moments of sexual experimentation start off realistically and then give way to creative set pieces that humorously signify carnal discovery. There are some interesting supporting characters in Sex Appeal. We don’t get enough of them but the sexually experienced female student played by Paris Jackson, the virginal cheerleader played by Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, and the sex education teacher played by Artemis Pebdani add some color to the movie. Most interesting is Larson, Avery’s longtime friend and partner in sexual discovery. Larson is the most sympathetic character in the movie because Jake Short plays him as vulnerable and hopeful. The resolution of his story admirably avoids romantic comedy cliches.
What Doesn’t: Sex Appeal has a credibility problem and it starts with the film’s protagonist. Avery is not a believable character. The story posits that this young woman is romantically and sexually sheltered even though her parents are very obviously sexually open. But more than that, Avery doesn’t behave like a human being. It’s as though the emotional and sexual awakenings inherent to puberty never happened to her. She has no social anxiety or romantic passion. Avery gets into a relationship with Larson under the pretense of doing research but in doing so she’s cheating on her long-distance boyfriend Casper (Mason Versaw). Neither Avery nor the moviemakers acknowledge this. As it is, Casper is a nonentity and his relationship with Avery is unconvincing. There’s no reason to believe that Casper and Avery could or would maintain a relationship because she is so oblivious to anyone else’s feelings. And yet, Avery is presented as an otherwise normal teenager. Someone this naïve would have serious social problems, much more than being the “cute awkward girl” so often found in romantic comedies. The premise of Sex Appeal is also incredulous. This teenage girl develops a sex app for her extracurricular school activity. There is no way any school would let that go forward and anyone who has any experience with high school would recognize that.
Bottom Line: Sex Appeal is a frustrating movie because it contains pockets of interesting moments surrounded by a lot of bad choices. The movie is so divorced from reality that it plays as though its makers never met a teenager or visited a high school and Sex Appeal fails to say anything relevant about sexuality or human relationships.
Episode: #891 (September 13, 2021)