A sex comedy for the whole family? Strange as it sounds, that’s exactly what Jason Alexander has made in his first post-“Seinfeld” directorial effort “Just Looking”. There’s enough coarse language and frank talk to keep Y-ers from losing interest and enough evocative ’50s period details to keep parents happily reminiscing. Intelligent and quietly emotional, pic boasts top-notch production values, solid acting and a story that turns out to have more twists than you’d expect; it goes down as easy as a cherry Coke. Buoyed by a creative marketing campaign that positions it for families looking for something off the beaten path, this could turn out to be a solid sleeper.
From the setup, pic sounds exactly like the kind of movie you would expect from George Costanza, Alexander’s “Seinfeld” character. It’s 1955 and Lenny (Ryan Merriman), a 14-year-old from the Bronx, has decided to devote his summer to one thing: catching two adults in flagrante.
If that means spying on his mother and her new husband, a fat butcher named Polinsky (Richard V. Licata), so be it. But of course its not that easy: Polinsky, sensing the kid’s growing resentment of him, sends him to Queens for the summer to live with his aunt Norma (Ilana Levine) and uncle Phil (Peter Onorati).
The prospect of living in the boondocks is even less appealing when he discovers that Norma is pregnant, meaning that there will be no sex in his uncle’s home. Fortunately, they live across from Hedy (Gretchen Mol), a night nurse who used to model brassieres.
Lenny finds some satisfaction for his sex fixation when he befriends John (Joseph Franquinha), who tells him of a sex club he has started with two neighborhood girls. There’s no actual sex involved (pic is nudity free); the club simply talks about varieties of coital activity, using language that falls somewhere between Dr. Spock and Howard Stern. Pic’s straightforward discussions are both funny and refreshing.Hedy has given Lenny’s obsession a newfound focus. While he sets about trying to catch her in the act, he ends up learning about her troubled upbringing and failed romances, and they become friends. Meanwhile, Alice (Amy Braverman), the sex club leader, begins to fall for Lenny, not that he even notices her.There are moments of inspired poetic metaphor in Marshall Karp’s semi-autobiographical script, particularly when Lenny and Hedy remember their fathers.
Pic marks the best work to date for Mol, who is still better known for being on the cover of Vanity Fair than for her any of her acting roles. As a Miss Lonelyhearts with an obviously damaged psyche, she conveys a vibrant optimism that shines through her sadness — the whole time nailing a Queens accent.
Playing a difficult character, Merriman becomes more convincing as the film progresses. As the pic’s two surrogate-father figures, Onorati and Licata do excellent jobs at expressing a strange, fractured tenderness toward Lenny.
As you might expect from a sitcom vet, Alexander keeps things going at a quick clip. The young thesps in particular seem to benefit from his comic know-how, delivering setup and punchlines like old pros.
Tech credits are top-flight, with a convincing period feel in Michael Johnston’s production design, colorfully captured by lenser Fred Schuler.