Bryan Poyser’s Love and Air Sex puts its sport, the art of explicitly pantomiming sex acts on stage, directly in its title. However, while its titular (and titillating) activity is featured in a few noteworthy set pieces, don’t expect an all-out raunchfest; it’s far more interested in love than air sex. This is a typically tender indie romcom, replete with meet cutes, missed connections, shots of pretty young faces staring off forlorn into the middle distance, and wacky supporting characters providing the occasional raunchy splash. Despite some missteps and a general sense of familiarity, it generally hits its genre mark. Thanks to a few charming performances and its offbeat Austin setting, the film is bound to find a home on VOD, where fans of the indie rom-com will likely find it to be a pleasant diversion.
We start on a date with our main couple, Stan (Michael Stahl-David) and Cathy (Ashley Bell). They laugh, they kiss in public, and they frolic the way young lovers do… until we sharply cut to both masturbating on opposite coasts, a physical and emotional divide separating them. Flashbacks over the opening credits show them in love, hanging out with their best friends Kara (Sara Paxton) and Jeff (Zach Cregger), until Cathy gets the opportunity to go to medical school in New York. Life progresses and thus claims another young relationship as its victim.
Fast forward to present day: Stan sees on Facebook that Cathy will be arriving in Austin the next day to visit Kara. Although he is a lowly writer in LA, working at a pizza parlor to make ends meet until he sells his sitcom, he drops over eight hundred dollars and surprises Jeff with a visit. Since this is a comedy, and honest behavior dissipates the tension of delayed conflict in our narrative, the main characters hide things from each other: Kara finds out Stan is in town and keeps it a secret from Cathy, Stan tells Jeff he’s there solely to visit him and keeps his true intentions of reuniting with Cathy to himself, and so on.
Poyser crafts some nice moments, in particular with Stan; Stahl-David is a likable presence on screen, at his best when sharing in the audience’s disbelief at Jeff’s ludicrous behavior. He also exhibits understated charm when he meets Haley (Addison Timlin), a cellist, and proceeds to flirt poorly with her. In one achingly true contemporary moment, he is coyly texting with her, takes a joke one step too far, and is left writhing waiting for a response– has he offended her or did she just momentarily put her phone down? These scenes allow the script and the performers to shine.
However, the Jeff subplot drags the film down. He and Kara have broken up since the departure of their friends, and now they are devoutly dedicated to sleeping with as many people as possible. Jeff and his housemates spend far too much of the first half of the film spouting their dudebro theories on how to bring as many girls home as possible. Example theory: since guys want a girl more when they are denied access to a girl’s vagina, they must deny girls access to their penises, which drives girls crazy because they want what they can’t have. They also insist that giving a girl negative comments will make her want them more; the popular one they keep coming back to is to tell a girl “You have shit on your face.”
Perhaps the goal of the script is to make us root heavily for Kara, as Jeff and his friends are all misguided delusional douches, but that doesn’t seem to be the film’s aim (especially considering the resolution of Jeff’s plotline). We’re also given the tired “he behaves this way because he really misses her” excuse, as if this justifies his boorish behavior. Cregger, the next incarnation of Ryan Reynolds, does his best, and he clearly has a career of stealing scenes ahead of him, once he’s given better material. Paxton as Kara fares better; although her character’s motivations seem to change with the wind, she goes all-out with her profane dialogue and bawdy hijinks.
Luckily, the film spends more time away from Jeff and his antics as it progresses, and while it covers familiar ground and occasionally strays from recognizable human behavior, its pace remains quick, it builds its Austin setting nicely, and its main character is charming. It may hit the majority of the “indie romcom” checklist, but there’s something to be said for ably executing said trademarks. Yet since its one stand-apart, the world of air sex, goes mostly unexplored, one is left to wonder about the people dedicated to this venture. What are the gender dynamics? What ignites one’s passion for this activity? In most sports movies, we see what the sport means to the characters and what it represents in their psyches. Are these people lonely? Angry? Just bored? Though Love and Air Sex is a fine entry into the indie romcom world, it’s disappointing that the film never fully connects to its titular art form. It merely thrusts in the air around it.
“Love and Air Sex” is currently available on iTunes, VOD, and will be in theaters starting this Friday, February 7th.