×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Investigating Sex

"Investigating Sex," the latest head-scratcher from the unpredictable and frequently audacious Alan Rudolph, left a packed closing-night crowd noticeably unsatisfied at the pic's bow, in the vet helmer's hometown of Seattle.

With:
With: Dermot Mulroney, Alan Cumming, Neve Campbell, Robin Tunney, Nick Nolte, Tuesday Weld, Julie Delpy, Jeremy Davies, Emily Bruni, Terrence Dashon Howard, Kathleen Robertson, Til Schweiger.

“Investigating Sex,” the latest head-scratcher from the unpredictable and frequently audacious Alan Rudolph, left a packed closing-night crowd noticeably unsatisfied at the pic’s bow, in the vet helmer’s hometown of Seattle. His attempt to recreate the libertine climate of bohemian Europe in the late 1920s is only fitfully engaging, despite the presence of a large, well-tuned ensemble and a lot of loose talk about you-know-what. Actually, all that palaver proves more wearisome than arousing, and “Sex” is likely to find its case closed before the probing begins.

The helmer based his dialogue-heavy pic on conversations initiated by Parisian surrealists in the pre-Depression era. That crowd is embodied in this Berlin-shot costumer by Dermot Mulroney, impressive as the stern Edgar, who insists that his avant-garde pals discuss modern sexuality in clinical detail, but without forays into such “deviations” as homosexuality, humor, or open sentimentality.

Popular on Variety

His circle includes a self-confident filmmaker (Jeremy Davies), a self-absorbed painter (Alan Cumming), a German artist (Til Schweiger) and a British student who is also Edgar’s rival for the affections of a French beauty (Julie Delpy), who is, in turn, turned off by Edgar’s seeming preference for the mythical succubus over any flesh-and-blood woman.

To record what he’s sure will be brilliant exchanges, Edgar hires two young stenographers, the worldly Zoe (Robin Tunney) and the virginal Alice (Neve Campbell), with the proviso that they don’t contribute to the discourse. Their switch into sexy evening attire, however, assures that they will influence the course of events — as will rich businessman (Nick Nolte) and his wife of uncertain origins (Tuesday Weld, moving between Russian and Brooklyn accents), whose villa is the home to these verbal experiments.

Some witty badinage transpires — clever enough that Rudolph had to go to Europe to find funding — but the mere fact that the participants worry about over-intellectualizing sex doesn’t exactly inoculate Rudolph from doing exactly that. The language never goes deep enough to hit existential pay dirt (the whole succubus theme is woefully underexamined), and the onscreen lovemaking is pretty tame stuff.

To compensate, the helmer plays almost everything as farce. He uses Cumming’s moans, winces and pouts as punch lines, frequently pointing to the character’s latent gayness, as if that should be amusing in itself. In fairness, the highly physical Brit is resourceful enough to make this work, even if it dispels all heat between the characters.

Campbell is good as the coltish secretary, who warms to Edgar’s heroic views of male sexuality, but she’s asked to turn her demureness on and off like a light switch. Tunney’s earthy confidence shines in this flapper-era setting, but most of the other players don’t get the chance to give their characters much shading. Delpy shows unexpected humor as the romantically conflicted pawn, although how she got in this position isn’t made remotely clear. Good use of music and lighting creates tension unsustained by the story.

Although considerable attention has been paid to costumes and other details, the period feel isn’t terribly strong — a crucial element when auds are asked to recognize the frank talk of genitals and orgasms as being shocking for its time. There are small anachronisms in the language, and one doozy, when Mulroney’s character goes ’60s by asking Nolte’s if he was “putting us on” with a shaggy-donkey story about his bestial adolescence. But whether set in 1929 or 2001, “Investigating Sex” already feels too dated, and far too timid, to spark any real exploration of mind or body.

Investigating Sex

Germany-U.S.

Production: A Gemini Films production, in association with Apollo Media, Kingsgate and Janus Films. (International sales: UGC Intl., Paris.) Produced by Jana Edelbaum, Nick Nolte, Klaus Rettig, Alan Rudolph, Greg Shapiro. Directed by Alan Rudolph. Screenplay, Rudolph, Michael Henry Wilson, based on the book "Recherches sur la Sexualite Archives du Surealisme," edited by Jose Pierre.

Crew: Camera (color), Florian Ballhaus; editor, John Helde; music, Ulf Skogsbergh; production designer, Norbert Scherer; art director, Adrian Stame; set decorator, Bernhard Henrich; costume designer, Barbara Jager; sound (Dolby), Garth Marshall; assistant director, John Sebastian Ballhaus; casting, Pam Dixon. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival, June 17, 2001. (Also in Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 107 MIN.

With: With: Dermot Mulroney, Alan Cumming, Neve Campbell, Robin Tunney, Nick Nolte, Tuesday Weld, Julie Delpy, Jeremy Davies, Emily Bruni, Terrence Dashon Howard, Kathleen Robertson, Til Schweiger.

More Film

  • Legion M Launches Film Scout Mobile

    Film News Roundup: Legion M Launches Film Scout Mobile App at Sundance

    In today’s film news roundup, Legion M is launching its Film Scout mobile app, the first round of Oscar presenters are unveiled, Verve is expanding its book-to-screen business, “Gladiator” producer David Franzoni boards an American Indian project, and XYZ announces promotions. SUNDANCE LAUNCH Fan-owned Legion M is launching its Film Scout mobile app at this [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    APA Reaches Deal With Writers Guild of America

    APA has reached a deal with the Writers Guild of America, ending a nine-month standoff over allowing the agency to represent guild members. The full-service agency made the announcement Tuesday, four days after the Gersh agency signed a similar deal with the WGA. It’s the sixth mid-size agency to accede to the WGA’s bans on [...]

  • UTA Sundance

    UTA Marketing Ups Sundance Game With Private Residence, Programming

    Talent agency hospitality is a mainstay at the Sundance film Festival, be it in swanky lounges on Park City’s Main Street or private chalets in nearby Deer Valley. United Talent Agency, whose talent roster and independent film group always come in force each year, typically throws a brunch for friends and press — but will [...]

  • Joel Silver

    Silver Pictures Settles with Family of Assistant Who Died on Bora Bora Trip

    Silver Pictures has reached a confidential settlement with the family of Carmel Musgrove, the assistant to Joel Silver who was found dead in a Bora Bora lagoon in 2015. Musgrove’s family filed a wrongful death suit in 2017, alleging that she had been overworked and furnished with drugs and alcohol during the trip. The family [...]

  • David O. Russell

    David O. Russell Looks at 'Three Kings' 20 Years Later

    When David O. Russell made “Three Kings” in 1999, it was one of the most definitive films on the Gulf War. At the time, the director had worked on shorts “Hairway to the Stars” and “Bingo Inferno: A Parody on American Obsessions.” He had also worked on features “Spanking the Monkey” and “Flirting with Disaster.” [...]

  • Metoo Sundance The Glorias Zola On

    #MeToo Issues Continue to Make an Impact on Sundance Films

    If there were any doubts that the impact of sexual-harassment exposés­­ and backlash against them had died down, Oprah Winfrey put them to rest when she withdrew her name (and Apple’s distribution) from “On The Record,” a film about allegations against music execs Russell Simmons and L.A. Reid — just two weeks before its Sundance Film Festival premiere. Variety reached out to Winfrey and the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content