This piece was originally published on CarnalNation. The movie is now available on DVD.
“I love sex,” she says. “And some people thought it was a bad thing. But I’ve learned that a slut is just a woman with the morals of a man.”
Sudden, screeching rewind back in time, slightly less than nine months. The free-spirited adventurer in question, Angela (Karin Anna Cheung), has just learned that one of her adventures has resulted in an embryo. She considers getting an abortion — her gay best friend, Gabriel (Wilson Cruz) practically demands it — but her conservative sister Juliet (Lynn Chen) pressures/ fearmongers/ persuades her that her life would be better if she settled down to a normal, stable family life. “Settle down,” she exhorts. “Grow up, and be happy for once.” Somehow neglecting to notice that Angela is already pretty darned happy. And definitely neglecting to notice that Angela is making her own conscious decisions about her own life… pretty much the textbook definition of being grown up.
Yes, I know. It’s another “shmashortion” movie, in which a woman who under any other circumstances would be off to Planned Parenthood in a nanosecond for an abortion mysteriously decides to keep the baby… because if she didn’t, it’d be a fifteen minute movie. It’s an annoying pattern. Noted. Annoyed. Let’s move on.
Because “The People I’ve Slept With” is, in fact, a movie worth moving on to. It’s an odd duck: a mutant offspring of a smart, quirky, genuinely funny character study/ comedy of errors, and a sloppy, under-written jumble of cliches and careless implausibility. But the good stuff is sufficiently good — and sufficiently uncommon — to make it well worth a look.
Especially for anyone interested in movie depictions of unconventional sex.
It’s true that much of the movie involves Angela’s freakout about her free-form life, and her cockamamie, half-assed pursuit of the American Dream, Heteronormative Style. But throughout the course of her cockamamie freakout, it’s made eminently clear that… well, that it’s a cockamamie freakout. The source of the humor isn’t that she’s struggling to find her way to the Right and True Path while being comically sidetracked into her old habits. The source of the humor is that she’s struggling to find her way to a path that’s laughably wrong for her. And in the end — and no, it’s not a spoiler, they give it away in the first five minutes — her salvation comes, not by accepting conventionality, but by embracing unconventionality. Especially in how she arranges her new family.
And there are oodles of lovely, funny, wonderfully refreshing sexual touches generously sprinkled throughout the movie. I love that the slutty, quirky, free-spirited Angela is her father’s favorite, and her normal, buttoned-down sister Juliet is the one he worries about and feels alienated from. It shatters so many stereotypes: about Asian families in particular, and about all families in general. I love how casually multicultural the movie is, and how sex not only with lots of different partners but with partners of lots of different races is treated as No Big Deal. I love how casually Angela’s bisexuality is revealed: her female partners are introduced in the litany of baseball cards right alongside the male ones, and while they’re less frequent than the guys, they’re shuffled into the pack as equals, and treated with the same cheerful, breezy affection.
And the whole movie is like that. The false notes are woven into the true ones, bouncing back and forth between thoughtfully funny character exploration and dumb screwball hijinks, so fast it makes your neck hurt trying to keep track. And it’s so unnecessary. The good movie is truly good — smart and quirky, inventive and funny, with a fresh approach to sexuality and a casually gutsy willingness to question tons of assumptions about it. It’s actually way more entertaining than the dumb, fake hijinks. I wish the filmmakers had either done another rewrite to work the dumb bits out of there… or trusted that the good movie didn’t need them.