Synopsis: James (Macaulay Culkin) and Heather (Alexis Dziena) along with Ellis (Kuno Becker) and Renee (Eliza Dushku) are two twenty-something couples whose lives are intertwined as they experiment with group sex as a way to sort out the rudiments of a successful relationship – sex, love and communication. After a series of mishaps fueled by jealousy, confusion and insecurities; they soon find that true love and lasting relationships (at their core) are ultimately about more than sex and breakfast.
Sex and Breakfast 7.25
eyelights: Macaulay Culkin’s performance. the unusual premise. the surprisingly deft ending.
eyesores: the awkward humour. many of the main performances.
“It didn’t start out this way. We used to… talk, like really talk, all the time about things that mattered to us. I was understanding and she was understanding and it was… it was fucking great.”
‘Sex and Breakfast’ is a 2006 romantic dramedy about two couples who seek solace from their relationship troubles via group sex therapy. Starring Macauley Culkin and Elisa Dushku (oh, and Alexis Dziena and Kuno Becker, if anyone cares), it explores the tensions of the two couples separately before bringing them together for the climax of the picture.
It’s a dialogue and character-driven piece, with only hints of sexiness. I appreciated this because first-time writer-director Miles Brandman had something to say and didn’t get distracted by serving up mere titillation. Oh sure, he used sex to sell his picture, but he mostly stayed on topic – with some unfortunate attempts at comedy.
I suspect that this was to lighten an otherwise pretty sober setting: with two troubled relationship, one doesn’t get a whole lot of levity. It could also be a marketing decision, so that it could be sold as a sex comedy. Either way, the humour was ill-advised because it was wasn’t subtle, or funny, and it was poorly staged, so it jutted out awkwardly.
There was also the matter of the dialogues. On the one hand, there were excellent exchanges between the partners about emotional and sexual concerns, and there were some heartfelt and deep moments when they are being interviewed by the therapist for the couples swapping therapy. We really got into their heads and hearts in those moment; they felt real.
But then there were these wince-inducing subplots such as when James and Heather pick up Heather’s ex-boyfriend, a jerk-off with anger issues who also happens to be in the military. The inevitable conflicts are really awkward. Or when Ellis and Renee go visit a waitress that has her eye on Renee. Ellis reacts totally unrealistically.
There’s also this scene in which James (Culkin) decides to pay Heather (Dziena) an impromptu visit to apologize for something he’d said earlier. He encounters one of her neighbours, who is suspicious of his presence in the building: for some reason she decides to confront him, asking him if he’s a murderer. Like, really? Are you f-ing crazy? Don’t ask, run!
The dialogue eventually morphs into something more sensible, but it would have been more appropriate in the context of a heart-to-heart between two close friends – it was totally inappropriate in this context, even if the interplay itself was interesting. Such moments are hard to reconcile with the clever ones, such as the trick play at the end.
Part of the problem with the dialogues lies in the performances, sadly enough. Let’s just say that the main cast isn’t as stellar as it should be given that the picture hinges on them. Mind you, it’s also quite clear that this movie was a low-budget picture, and couldn’t afford an expensive cast, so one has to be somewhat forgiving.
Macauley Culkin is by far the best of the lot. Before rolling your eyes and snorting with derision, I have to say that he’s actually pretty good here. I mean, he’s not brilliant, but he gets the most intelligent material and is perfectly able to deliver it. James is the most self-reflective of the lot, and gets what’s really going on with his relationship. But he tries to be understanding of Heather’s needs and journey.
Alexis Dziena was cute in ‘Broken Flowers’ but obviously doesn’t transition well to a lead part. Her delivery was hardly ever convincing (I can only think of one time when she was). It didn’t help that her character seemed like a ditz who was torn between her desire for bad boys and her need for deeper emotional bonds, grasping at such weak solutions as group sex to solve her issues; it made even less relatable or “real”.
To make matters worse, Kuno Becker was equally unconvincing; he, too, very much looked like he was acting. Unlike Dziena, it wasn’t so much about his line delivery but about his ability to express true emotions. In his case it’s made worse by the fact that his character, Ellis, also has a tendency to mask his real feelings at times, which would have us suppose that he’d be very good pretending. In Becker’s hands, neither is true.
At least Eliza Dushku was half-decent as Renee. We’re not talking award-winning here: she’s rather average, going through a lot of motions instead of being real. But she had some good moments. It’s just that I’ve seen her sharper. It could very well be a function of her character, who is bored and seeking to perk things up through various thrills. Perhaps this made her less in the moment, more in some other headspace.
Which leads me to the penultimate scene, in which the two couples are brought together by the therapist to work out some of their relationship troubles through sex. I found this sequence interesting because it was anything but an uninhibited romp: you could see that the characters weren’t entirely sure about what they were about to do.
The only person who was sure of herself was Heather, but her parents are swingers and it’s a more natural mode for her to get into. Meanwhile, Renee is doing it for Ellis, while Ellis and James are both looking over at their girlfriends while they are with their partners, evidently concerned about what is transpiring. It’s awkward and unfulfilling.
But the scene does have its moments. Brandman shot it in a way that made it appealing, moody, slightly sexy. There was the use of fade outs, focus to give the participants mystique and there was also the use of close-ups to make it more intimate. There isn’t that much flesh and it’s nothing explicit at all (sorry folks!), but it gets the point across ably.
Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by ‘Sex and Breakfast’. I had seen it around for a while and always balked at its title and Culkin’s name on the DVD box. And, although it’s by no means a great oeuvre, or anything groundbreaking, it serves up plenty enough frank discussions to warrant a viewing. It could have been better, but it’s a decent first film.
Date of viewing: May 31, 2014