Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel star in a dull romp about a couple trying to delete copies of a $ex tape that they accidentally share with their friends
By the time you read this, the story about intimate photos of female stars apparently hacked from iCloud might be old news. It might have slipped the media’s fickle hive mind almost entirely, like the once urgent but now almost forgotten issue of the 200 schoolgirls and held in northern Nigeria, and still incidentally not freed. But the stolen photographs and the attendant issues of privacy, celebrity and $exuality could still be current. Whether that would be good PR for this particular Hollywood movie is difficult to tell.
$ex Tape is a strained naughty-but-nice comedy about a happily married couple called Annie and Jay, played by Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, who film themselves on their iPad having $ex to spice up their boring bedroom lives, but then discover that through their “syncing” software this video appears on a whole bunch of other iPads that Jay uses for his work in the music business, and now in the hands of friends and colleagues. Their $ex tape threatens to go viral.
Does the photo controversy reveal this feelgood romp to be a timely
satire, or tactlessly expose it as sentimental and naive, especially as there is just so much promotional branding here for Apple products?
Certainly media consumers looking at the officially sanctioned pictures of Diaz used to promote the film, or the officially sanctioned pictures of Jennifer Lawrence accompanying the news story about the hacked photos, may wonder if it is all part of some vast continuum of male prurience. In the film, the man and woman are equally embarrassed; in real life, it isn’t quite like that. Both male and female actors make the Faustian bargain with fame, of course, but it is somehow only female stars who are attacked in this way.
Perhaps it would matter less if the film was funnier. $ex Tape – directed by Jake Kasdan and written by Kate Angelo, with Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller – seems so encumbered by its chancy $ex stuff that there is no opportunity to develop any wit or subversion; it doesn’t have the charm of Segel and Stoller’s other work, such as the first Muppets movie or their Richard Curtis-style romcom, The Five-Year Engagement.
The film is very keen for us to understand that this is a happy, monogamous relationship we’re talking about, and before any larky $ex-tape stuff can happen we have to be filled in at great length about their marriage – beginning with how they met in college. Segel and Diaz play themselves as students quite unself-consciously, without any obviously “young” makeup, having endless $ex. They get married and have kids: Jay gets ahead in the music business and Annie’s candid, raunchy blog about being a modern mom gets so huge that there’s buy-out interest from a big corporation, but only if she cleans up her act a little. Uh-oh.
So much energy has to go into establishing them as good people with a healthy interest in marital $ex – to establish their likability and good faith in making their $ex tape – that there is no space, or not enough space, for comedy. Which is not to say that a few gags do not surface occasionally. Jay’s friend Robby (Rob Corddry) is hugely impressed by the epic three-hour running time of the tape, in which they demonstrate every position in The Joy of $ex. It is as long, he gasps, as the movie Lincoln. Yet that is a rare example of the script mocking the $ex itself, however gently. Largely it is broad, knockabout farce about their desperate attempts to get hold of all the iPads, all the copies, and to suppress the video file entirely. It involves a chaotic visit to the corporate chief interested in Annie’s blog – a bespectacled bore called Hank, played by Rob Lowe – who turns out to be a bit of a wild man, though one with no funny lines. Finally, a louche online porn magnate played by Jack Black lectures the couple on how $ex tapes are generally made by unhappy people – you can tell he’s louche because he vapes away on his e-cigarette, increasingly the sign of a screen rogue. He earnestly discusses the cases of Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson, the kind of people suspected of deliberately leaking their films, unlike our squeaky-clean heroes.