Ed Blum | 88 mins | DVD | 15 / R
Scenes of a Sexual Nature is a half-accurate and half-misleading title for this low-budget British comedy drama. The first half is spot on — the film’s made up of seven unconnected scenes — while the second implies it’s ruder than it is.
Effectively, Scenes is seven short two-hand plays stuck together, occasionally intercut for no good reason (only one runs throughout), all on a similar theme — which, despite the title, is really “relationships” rather than “sex”. And “plays” is the right word: the styles of dialogue and acting, plus the sparsity of locations and cast members, not to mention the thematic construction, all suggest theatrical roots. In fact, so much does it seem grounded in the stage that I was thoroughly surprised to discover it wasn’t an adaptation. One wonders if writer Aschlin Ditta has perhaps launched his work into the wrong medium then; on the other hand, a stage production would never have attracted such attention or such a high number of recognisable names and faces.
Most of the scenes can be simply labelled — the Gay Couple, the Old Couple, and so on — and, unsurprisingly, some are better than others. The Gay Couple is a textbook example of how to write conflicting motivations both between a loving couple and within a single character, nicely performed by Ewan McGregor and Douglas Hodge. Consequently, it’s probably the film’s best sequence. Elsewhere, the Old Couple are quite sweet, Ditta pleasingly taking their story beyond an obvious, clichéd end point, though it is lumbered with a bench metaphor that’s a touch heavy-handed. Similarly, the Blind Date Couple is initially hilarious but doesn’t seem to know where to go, a problem that afflicts most of the film as every scene is distinctly inconclusive.
Worst is the one starring Mark Strong and Polly Walker, in which nothing at all happens in the name of a closing twist. It’s like the antithesis of the Old Couple bits. The one that stretches credibility the most, however, is the Divorcing Couple. Amicable divorces surely exist, but not that amicable — it’s very hard to believably see why they’re not still together. On the bright side, at least they’re not reunited by the scene’s end; but then, like much of the film, they’re not definitely apart either — it’s inconclusive.
Scenes of a Sexual Nature isn’t a bad film, but it is a bit of a mixed bag. Some stories work, others don’t. It’s not badly directed, but the writing and acting is all very stagey. It’s more like a collection of thematically and stylistically linked shorts than a feature in its own right. Some will no doubt take more from it than others, but I can only fall down the middle.