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Martin Starr: A Good Old Fashioned Orgy (2011)

By Dom Sinacola · Jul 17, 2013

Like most shameless Netflix users, a title like A Good Old Fashioned Orgy will ensure my passing interest in an otherwise stale and far-from-sexy kinda-rom-com. So there’s the name, and there’s the surprisingly tasteful, clever enough poster, which somehow manages to celebrate how great an orgy actually could be…

…and there’s the cast of comic actors I generally enjoy when in bit parts like this—Jason Sudeikis, Nick Kroll, Lake Bell, Lindsay Sloane, Will Forte, David Koechner—coupled with people who, by simply being in anything one can watch with one’s eyes, signal an at the very least fascinating battle about to unfold between likable people and hysterical, obnoxious fatsos who think that being a hysterical, obnoxious fatso is comic gold. So, this Tyler Labine guy. Plus there’s the doing it part. I’m sold. I’m your easily finagled demographic right here, fellas.

The plot is exactly as any person who’s ever seen a motion picture could imagine: Eric (Sudeikis) is an aging trust fundee who, with a group of lifelong friends, spends his summers throwing blown-out, super-awesome parties at Eric’s dad’s summer house in (probably, who knows, there’s a beach) the Hamptons. That is, until Eric’s dad (Don Johnson, sadly underused) decides to sell the house, meaning that Eric and Co. must not only come up with the best going-away party ever but also stymie the realtors (one of whom is a love interest, natch, played by Leslie Bibb) into not successfully making a sale until after Labor Day Weekend, which is when the party to end all parties will occur. After an oddly uncomfortable scene involving Eric and his best friend Mike (Labine) ordering ice cream and nearly sexually harassing the jailbait vendor who serves them—wherein at no point does Eric even mention that it’s deeply fucked up that Mike is miming fellatio in front of a 16-year-old girl—Eric strikes upon the best idea of his rapidly dwindling life: to celebrate their last weekend in the house together, the friends will have an orgy. Granted, if some of my closest friends were Lake Bell and Lindsay Sloane, I would most likely also entertain having casual sex with them if the opportunity were to arise. So it’s not like Eric’s grasping at straws here.

It of course takes Eric and Mike a good hour of the movie’s run-time to convince the rest of the cast to buy into the orgy idea, because as a few members of the gang, like Nick Kroll’s workaholic germaphobe, Adam (basically the exact same character he plays in The League, minus the sociopathic wit), point out: who wouldn’t want to have public sex with some of the people in their gang? Lots of people, actually, because the awkwardness that could ensue in the aftermath/hangover of their mass-banging could spell the utter unraveling of the group’s close platonic bond. Yet, the hold-outs don’t so much dwell upon the existential awkwardness of running train on your best friend as they do cite idiosyncratic excuses. Alison (Bell) is in and out of a committed relationship she’d rather be in than not, and is a psychologist to boot, so having an orgy with your friends is probably psychologically damaging, right? Adam has an important adult job, having long put his juvenile past behind him, plus he’s all anxious about the proliferation of so much bacteria on the gym mats they’ll probably use to line the floor. It’s intimated that Laura (Sloane) was once overweight and under-popular, still embarrassed about her body and still not quite in control of her sexuality, so she’d just rather not. Eventually, due in some cases to Eric’s dickhead intervention, all of these reasons become moot: Alison officially ends everything with her boyfriend; Adam is fired after Eric destroys his phone, inevitably costing him a lucrative “deal” (which is movie parlance for “important adult job thing”); and Laura is convinced she’s beautiful on the outside as well as on the inside—derrrr—so why not fuck your friends?

This leaves Doug Duquez (Martin Starr) as the remaining member of the Eric’s Pals 4Ever Gang with a legitimate reason for not wanting to take part in the orgy, namely that he has a steady girlfriend whom, as he deadpans, he cares immensely about. Doug struggles with a rock star recording career as he denies both his law school origins and the fact that he looks like Martin Starr, always on the cusp of actually following through on something, anything, before becoming mired in indecision. He has yet to finish his EP, he never took the bar, he can’t figure out whether his future album cover should be shot with his douche-y fedora or not, he can’t even figure out whether to use a 9 iron or a wedge (the answer is: the wedge): he is the picture-perfect embodiment of a lack of confidence and sincerity, a guy who doesn’t seem to fit comfortably into any role he dreams up for himself. Including being with his gorgeous girlfriend, the lazily named Willow (Angela Sarafyan)—because she’s this wispy, indie-ish child of the ’90s?—a person from whom he seems already committed to hearing she wants a break up at every possible juncture.

What’s so tragic about Starr’s character is that he has no other personality trait besides that which is ingrained in Starr’s physical carry, which, as has been the case since Starr played Bill Haverchuck 13 years ago, type-casting him until the end of time, means that Doug’s indecisiveness is a less vital piece of his character than is the curiosity surrounding why Willow even wants to be with him at all.

The answer of course, which is revealed when the orgy finally gets going—and yes, spoiler alert: they have the orgy—is that Doug has an enormous penis. Why else would some young, buxom hottie want to be with such a nerd anyway, amirite? And if this were not intended to be a suitable reason for Doug’s success with Willow, then why even have that as a plot point, which is brought up on two separate occasions? The only possible answer with any weight is that the film implies that the character with the least available self-esteem has no reason to not be confident, because, again, having a huge dick means you should feel really good about yourself, amirite? And also that attractive women who would otherwise ignore you would then have their opinions of you drastically altered upon learning the impressive dimensions of your massive penis.

This is the logic under which the movie operates: that characters are archetypes until they’re not—metamorphosized by the power of no-strings-attached sex that, in any normal human circumstance, would definitely have strings—and that reborn as fleshed-out mammals post-mass-coitus, they find they’re only that much closer, despite building their whole friendship on the very archetypes they molted, skirting over every possible thread of awkwardness and somehow coming out as comfortable as before. It makes everything so hilariously messy about the movie’s core conceit so simplistically resolved that the inherent humor in the high-concept “fucking your friends…all at once” pitch loses all sense of tension or dramatic arc. The movie should’ve just been one scene where they talk about having an orgy, and then one scene where they have an orgy. I’m sad I didn’t realize this until the end of the movie, because for some stupid fucking reason I thought that maybe, just maybe, I’d be surprised by the outcome of the orgy. Where’s my comedy where all the friends can barely stand to look at each other the next morning, and they all stop speaking to each other for the rest of their lives? What about my pitch-black comedy where the drunk, inappropriate, eternally single friend who once mimed fellatio with a minor goes a little overboard with the prospect of sexual freedom and does something truly despicable? Where’s my comedy where Eric and Mike are the only ones who agree to the orgy, and they end up having the best sex of their lives with each other? Nope: they all fuck; no one is embarrassed by anything; Doug and Willow have monogamous sex and no one really tries to butt in; Mike blacks out and forgets everything that happened; and in the end everything is just dandy.

What makes Starr better than this movie is that he plays his character as if he had no prior knowledge of his character’s huge dick until watching the movie two years after it was filmed (which is when it finally found a distributor, because: it’s a terrible fucking movie), thus focusing on Doug’s detrimental indecisiveness and how Doug clearly hides his inability to commit to anything behind a series of personas that he feels, somehow, justify his being with a beautiful, care-free, supportive woman who, somehow, has infinite patience for his deep-seated pussiness. I mean, sometimes the look on his face is such a smooth jambalaya of fear, confusion, and smugness that once can imagine him finding motivation for his performance in the kind of career decisions that led him to the movie in the first place. Is he feeding into the popular perception of Martin Starr/Bill Haverchuck by being in A Good Old Fashioned Orgy? Or he just doing what he can to put food on the table? Shouldn’t there by a hyphen in that title somewhere? Which only means that Starr attempts to overcome, probably, the main reason he was hired for the role in the first place, which he does only by playing the part as humanly as he can without lapsing into full-on dork mode. It’s more than can be said for the other actors, who are only their typecast quirks, or for the movie’s narrative itself, which is only a movie about friends having sex, and not about the potentially devastating effects such misplaced intimacy could have on a group of people with nearly transcendent intimacy issues.

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