REVIEW: ‘Sex Appeal’ Is Yet Another Teen Comedy Devoid of Laughs

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Sex Appeal - But Why Tho

As I write this review, I have a confession to make about Sex Appeal. This is the first time in my 12-year career covering and critiquing media that I’ve watched a comedy and not laughed, not even once. Quite the achievement for Sex Appeal, a film with a runtime of 90 minutes but feels more like 180. Directed by Talia Osteen, Sex Appeal tries to carve its mark on the well-worn teen rom-com but instead offers nothing new and feels as dishonest and shallow as most of its characters.

Mika Abdalla plays the studious yet sex-deprived Avery, who comes up with an app AI that essentially walks you through how to have sex. Think of it as Siri as a sex therapist but voiced by Spock. This project submission for some academic award called “Stemcon” could potentially launch Avery into a force to be reckoned with in the tech world once she graduates high school. Here’s the kicker, how can she design an app that teaches you how to have great sex if she’s a virgin? And so Sex Appeal begins, and we find Avery scrambling around trying to gain “experience” as she readies her app for the convention, which will take place in about a month. To add some more tension, her boyfriend Casper (Mason Versaw) will also be attending this con, and so her app’s presentation countdown lines up with what could potentially be her first crack at sex once she meets him.

Sex Appeal is painfully predictable. You can pretty much figure out the ending about 30 minutes in as soon as you see Avery recruit the help of her childhood best friend Larson (Jake Short) to help in learning and practicing sex. What could go wrong? One of the most disappointing aspects of Sex Appeal is the pointlessness of some of the characters. Suppose you’re looking for intelligent and well-developed characters. In that case, you’re much better off watching Booksmart. This far superior teen romcom truly encompasses everything Sex Appeal tries to do but does it humorously and memorably. Avery is cerebral and very well-read, but the movie makes her as unlikeable and annoying as possible. Amy and Molly from Booksmart are certified brainiacs, but they’re also sweet and rootable, and the humor plays on their naivety to significant effect. Here, Avery’s practically a narcissist who barely learns her lesson, if at all. Larson is probably the most fleshed-out character in the film and easily the most likable. He has a long-standing crush on Avery and was “friend-zoned” by her after a miscalculation on his part many years prior. Larson gave up on pursuing her but now sees an opportunity, only to be used as a guinea pig and discarded. Sex Appeal’s central message is that love is intertwined with sex and vice versa, an idea vehemently opposed by Avery’s erudite hypothesis. Will she learn? Does it matter? Do we care?

The supporting cast is as dull and underused as most of the film’s plot. Margaret Cho is an afterthought here which is a shame because she was excellent in last year’s Good on Paper; another worthwhile rom-com to watch instead. There’s a strange cameo by Paris Jackson in which she plays this legendary “sex goddess” who has seen more action than anybody at the high school and guides Avery. Like most of the film, Paris Jackson’s character is strange and pointless. I suppose her character is meant for some additional shock value, but it failed the mark there, and the comedy was nowhere to be found. There are long stretches in Sex Appeal where the comedy takes a backseat, and shock humor attempts to take the reigns.  

Although to give the movie credit, one scene was mildly entertaining and almost made me chuckle. It is a dream sequence that simulates what it is like for a man to give oral sex to a woman. It has Larson as a miner going underground in a labyrinth of pink tunnels, with Avery directing him to the right spot as a foreman. Unfortunately, the film never builds on this, and if the other dream sequences were as mildly amusing as that one was, we might have something here. Sex Appeal is shot competently, and the actors appear to be having a good time with the script; I just wish I was having a good time too. There are so many on-the-nose sexual innuendos one could turn this film into a drinking game, so maybe there’s some fun in that.

Sex Appeal is not even a romp or adventure; it is stale and never goes anywhere. The payoff is rushed, the humor is unappealing, and it was 90 minutes of slog I can’t get back. That one dream sequence was clever but short-lived. Do yourself a favor and watch Booksmart instead.

Sex Appeal is streaming right now on Hulu.


Sex Appeal
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    Rating - 4/10
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TL;DR

Sex Appeal is not even a romp or adventure; it is stale and never goes anywhere. The payoff is rushed, the humor is unappealing, and it was 90 minutes of slog I can’t get back. That one dream sequence was clever but short-lived. Do yourself a favor and watch Booksmart instead.