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Tribeca Review: 'A Good Old Fashioned Orgy' Is A Good New-Fashioned Slob Comedy

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist May 1, 2011 at 6:20AM

The slob comedy, an invention of the American counterculture of the sixties and seventies that tore down movies’ perception of onscreen propriety, has miraculously survived in various forms since Bill Murray and his “Saturday Night Live” cronies started smirking on the big screen. Every time someone thinks that the influence of “National Lampoon’s Animal House” can no longer be felt, a film like “The Hangover” emerges, tapping into the zeitgeist and pulling in record-breaking numbers, further establishing the modern onscreen male as proprietor of snark, juvenile tomfoolery, and general bad behavior.
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The slob comedy, an invention of the American counterculture of the sixties and seventies that tore down movies’ perception of onscreen propriety, has miraculously survived in various forms since Bill Murray and his “Saturday Night Live” cronies started smirking on the big screen. Every time someone thinks that the influence of “National Lampoon’s Animal House” can no longer be felt, a film like “The Hangover” emerges, tapping into the zeitgeist and pulling in record-breaking numbers, further establishing the modern onscreen male as proprietor of snark, juvenile tomfoolery, and general bad behavior.

But the dark truth of more modern efforts like “The Hangover” and its ilk is that, while those films find humor in the smaller truths of life, the damn-the-man attitude can’t properly manifest any further. Part of this is the weight of so much political upheaval in the last few decades that we’ve seen too many seemingly-conflicting philosophies thrive. War, a formally-dividing topic, has been compartmentalized thanks to a silent media and a societal attitude that allows those who are transparently wrong to complicate issues alongside the truly informed. More importantly: women have infiltrated the boy’s club.

The mingling of the sexes is the most distinct difference between “A Good Old Fashioned Orgy” and those early slob classics like “Stripes” and, charitably, “MASH.” The Us Against Them idea in those films placed women solidly (and, in some ways, problematically) on the side of Them. Now, “Orgy” posits that there is no longer a “Them,” as our leads, a group of upper-middle-class whites with mundane office jobs, seem to keep their composure during theoretically joyless employment periods followed by drunken weekend antics at a lavish summer home. They’re willing to dip a toe into the modern world, but it’s the retreat to treating every weekend like spring break that enlivens them.

The house belongs to the father of Eric, a thirty something who wears a button-down and tie at work, but, as played by (yep) “SNL” member Jason Sudeikis, is clearly a member of the Murray school of smarm charm. As a ladykiller, Eric is handsome enough, which, combined with his father’s Hamptons party den, makes him an ideal ringleader for the structure of endless theme parties, such as “Star Wars Vs. Star Trek” and a “White Trash Bash.”

Unfortunately, the good times are about to end, as Eric’s smooth-talking father (Don Johnson, natch) has announced plans to sell the house. Speaking volumes about a more pragmatic generation, Eric doesn’t fight this decision, instead trying to find a way to celebrate the house’s final days of debauchery with one big party. Of course, there’s only one way to fight Them, to become Us once more like our previous generations: Sex.

And so Eric brings together his core group of friends for whom high school never ended and proposes an orgy. The argument is implicit that their friendship is already fairly incestuous, as Eric correctly gambles that he can suggest group sex to his female friends and not earn a slap in the face. He lobbies against their uncertainties by clearly defining what sex has meant to their generation: free love gave way to AIDS awareness, but once they grew out of their experimental youth phases, sex education had allowed teenagers and young folk to experiment freely again. They’ve missed the boat on sexual liberation, the only indignity left for their demographic.

This being a Slob Comedy, there is a ticking clock provided by a snob-type, this time the realtors, desperate to find a buyer before the end of the summer. Eric is fortunate enough to charm a date from a young shapely realtor Kelly (Leslie Bibb), a diversionary tactic that buys them more time, though her motivation to possibly torpedo her job by postponing a big sale seem under-thought. It’s the older realtor Dody (Lin Shaye) who motors on. Of course, the subgenre evolves: as these guys and girls aren’t really slobs, she isn’t necessarily an enemy, as she ends up being fairly polite and, oddly enough, sexually compatible.

In a lesser film (possibly the earlier incarnation that was to feature Vince Vaughn), our characters would stop short at the orgy, the suggestion being that sort of sexual experimentation being a threat to everyone’s friendship, complicating feelings overall. Fortunately, only a hint of that conservative streak rears its head before the third act bash, which allows our characters (all skilled comedic performers which natural chemistry) the chance to indulge in a sexual free-for-all. Kudos to writer-directors Alex Gregory and Peter Hyuck, who understand the possibility of sex to unite and strengthen bonds, and who shoot the big event as a joyous coming-together rather than some ugly, regretful shock fest. Of course, they spare us some of the more adventurous sights of group sex, but sometimes you have to expect limitations of some sort when discussing mainstream comedy crowd-pleasers.

As Eric, Sudeikis is a somewhat affable ringleader, but he’s somewhat miscast as a “hunk” for reasons both superficial (weak chin, insincere smile) and story wise (his performance lacks the depth that suggests a life beyond the film - who is Eric anyway?). He’s anchored by a strong supporting cast, particularly the always-game Lake Bell, and a surprisingly sensitive turn from Tyler Labine, who is occasionally forced to fall into the fat-guy-pratfall stereotype he’s filled before but offers a characterization filled with human insecurities. Lindsay Sloane and Nick Kroll are sweet as two insecure, shy types, while Martin Starr delivers a variation on his bitter hipster, given additional weight by his accelerated age. And Michelle Borth and Angela Sarafyan give unexpected depth to characters that appear to be eye-candy when both appear to have hungry single-female libidos, one moreso than the other. Though they are on the periphery of the story, their sexual longings are not a punch line but a natural extension of their characterizations.

The trump card, disappointingly, goes unused. As the sole married couple in their small group, Will Forte and Lucy Punch are consistently funny, both of them completely aware that they are being marginalized by their judgmental friends. Early on, they successfully balance an engagement, a baby and Eric’s consistently large house parties. But once they are married, Eric and co. quietly usher them out of the group, overly respectful of their new family life. It’s a weirdly incongruous move for the film, displaying a weird Conservative Slob concept and also ushering the two funniest performers to the margins of the story. On one level, it’s a missed opportunity as much as the potential for this film to explore the insecurities of this generation with a more dramatic focus, favoring gags over insight, such as the brief, jealous reaction Eric displays when hearing about the school-wide sexual armband approach to sex. On another, the pairing of Forte and Punch is as inspired a couple as you could find, and the film does find space for a deep comedic cast and a taboo-breaking premise, successfully capturing the sexual malaise of today’s aging Gen-Xers in a way that most indie films, studio efforts, or Slob Comedies© can muster. Except, you know, funny, because that sounds incredibly depressing. [B]

This article is related to: Films, Actors, Actresses, Review, A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, Vince Vaughn, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis, Lucy Punch, Lake Bell


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