The Opposite of Sex (1998)

At the end of The Opposite of Sex, Christina Ricci’s narrator explains herself: “Sex leads to babies, diseases and relationships. I wanted the opposite of that.” That morally skewed statement is key to this nasty little sitcom’s point of view, but it’s delivered with a wink; it quick montage follows showing just how wonderful sex really is. As shallow and rotten as this film is, it might’ve been a trashy classic if it didn’t cop out. For every wicked observation, there’s a wholesome counter. It tries to be a black comedy and ends up bleaching itself out.

The Opposite of Sex has absolutely no style to it, which would make it ideal for television if half the characters weren’t gay. The camera work is flat and unimaginative, the narrative seems predesigned for commercial interruptions, and the actors are uniformly dull (Lyle Lovett seems to be reading his lines from cue cards.) The writer/director, Don Roos, has written popular movies (Boys on the Side, Single White Female) but hasn’t directed before now; he says “it’s like having a child and raising yourself rather than having a child letting someone else raise it while you watch through a chain-link fence.” To this end, he’s covered his bases by adding the aforementioned narration. Ricci points out obvious conventions such as a close-up of a gun on a dresser: “I showed you the gun because it’s important later. That’s foreshadowing. Duh.” Roos is either making fun of bad directors (of his work?) or he knows he’s doing the same hack job but can’t figure out how else to do it.

George Orwell wrote that “prolonged, indiscriminate reviewing of books is a quite exceptionally thankless, irritating and exhausting job. It not only involves praising trash but constantly inventing reactions towards books about which one has no spontaneous feeling whatever.” Many critics have praised this film indiscriminately; quite often the praise uses television as a benchmark: “It’s got enough plot… for an entire season of Melrose Place.” (Richard Corliss, Time.) “Lisa Kudrow finally rises above the typecasting imposed by the expectations of Friends.” (John Boonstra, New Haven Advocate.) Coincidence? These critics would probably rather be home watching television to begin with; there’s certainly no cinematic justification for this movie as it stands.

The Opposite of Sex has created notoriety by adding homosexuality to the traditional farcical mix; without the spice of gayness it would seem very plain indeed. Roos uses his voiceover device to get laughs at the expense of gays one minute and homophobes the next. (“If you’re with the guy who snickered when Matt kissed Bill, that’s not good.”) If the gay themes were removed, most of the characters wouldn’t have a lot left to say.

There’s probably a decent core of an idea here from Roos the screenwriter. The best thing about the movie is a handful of wonderful throwaway lines that zing. But counter-zingers balance those zingers, so we’re never exactly sure what he’s trying to say – Roos tries so hard to please everyone that he muddles his points. A better director might have pruned some of the excess and dumped the sentimental baggage. Perhaps Roos should get back behind the fence and leave the raising of his children to foster parents.

January 13, 1999