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Sex With Strangers

A Strange Ride From Taxi Drivers to Sex

By Jed Horne


Sex With Strangers

Written and Directed by Joe and Harry Gantz

Unrated, contains language and graphic sex

A string of cinema-veritÉ credits give Joe and Harry Gantz a legitimate claim to being the best psuedo-voyeuristic documentary filmmakers in the industry. Building on the success of HBO’s Taxicab Confessions, their latest film examines the lives of three otherwise normal couples that “swing.”

James and Theresa are the most secure in their deviancy. Despite Theresa’s sagging chest and the apparently-unnoticed tastelessness of James’ body piercings (think Anthony Hopkins with a southern accent and pierced ears), they’ve kept at it, bagging three, sometimes five partners in a weekend, and enjoying every minute of it.

Calvin, Sara and Julie are the most pathetic. If you hated the whiny emptiness of characters in mid-nineties flicks like Ghostworld or Reality Bites, you’ll hate this trio. As manipulative and insincere as Calvin tries to be, he can’t seem to get rid of poor Sara, who can’t have Calvin because he really wants Julie but has sex with both of them. Please.

Shannon and Gerard are the most screwed up. The third (and least developed) of the pairings, they began swinging on the recommendation of a marriage counselor. Despite stiff competition from Calvin and Sara, Shannon and Gerard are the only couple with a legitimate claim to psychological issues. Waveland, Mississippi is where they have chosen to live out the (un)happiest years of their lives. Ever been to Waveland? Don’t go.

There’s much about Sex with Strangers that’s worth watching. I’ve always wondered what kind of people would allow someone to film their personal lives. Usually documentaries are about characters that are completely crazy (Grey Gardens comes to mind) or egotistical to the point of parody (like Tammy Faye Baker). What makes this movie different is that these are normal people, with (surprisingly) pedestrian problems, who let a couple of guys they don’t even know come and film them fighting, flirting, and having sex.

It makes you wonder what they think about themselves. Is Calvin aware of what an asshole he is? What do Shannon and Gerard think (if anything) about everyone knowing that Shannon was abused as a child?

For me the most intriguing part of any documentary is not the vicarious thrill of other people’s lives. It’s the bizarreness of the spectacle. If you want bizarre, Sex with Strangers just might turn you on.

But nagging questions hover over the movie, making it a little difficult to completely fathom. Most egregiously, it’s hard to tell exactly what the Gantzes are doing. Are these people supposed to be humanized? If so, why do they all seem so petty and screwed up? Is the movie supposed to be voyeuristic? If not, why are the sex scenes so long?

What struck me is that the jump from Taxicab Confessions wasn’t as easy as the Gantzes might have hoped: a show clearly aimed at horny adolescent kids is a far cry from a tasteful analysis of a difficult subject. There is a fine line between observation and voyeurism, and the Gantzes try, but fail, to straddle it. Overreach, however, is a forgivable mistake, and it doesn’t make Sex with Strangers any less fascinating.