Men are from Mars.
So are women.
Therewith the entire message of Whipped. See? I’ve saved you eight bucks and an hour and a half of your precious time (it’ll seem longer, believe me). But if you’re still intent on going, know that Whipped hinges on a plot device that isn’t wacky enough to be funny or convincing enough to be interesting. To wit, three NYC bachelor buddies are all, without knowing it, dating the same woman: a dewy-eyed, dewy-lipped honey named Mia (Amanda Peet). The boys freely sing Mia’s praises to each other but apparently never once mention her name, so each guy is shocked to turn up at her apartment one night and find the other two pitching woo.
At this point, we might expect the usual platter of farcical complications: slamming doors, mistaken identities, couplings and decouplings and recouplings. But Whipped isn’t particularly interested in the clever mechanics of farce. Mia continues fucking all three men and the three men keep vying to be her number one, and we’re meant to be tickled by the irony of self-styled Lotharios reduced to abject pleading.
Just in case we miss the irony, there’s a long introductory peek at the guys practicing their sexual scams on a host of unwitting women (and then rehashing them with each other and with the now-standard off-screen interlocutor). The only trouble with this would-be Neil LaBute sequence is that the women don’t seem particularly victimized and the scams look hapless. Handsome investment banker Brad nabs chicks by telling them he’s “Jen’s brother” every chick will have a friend named Jen. Zeke slays women with his well-practiced, arts-y, “downtown” vibe. Jonathan doesn’t even have a scam he curls up Saturday nights with bottles of lubricant.
Of course, they’re not supposed to be successful scammers, just callous ones. And so they gather at the same diner every Sunday to compare their boning progress and crow about their conquests. Judging from the length and intensity of these scenes, we’re meant to believe that this is the ugly truth of male predation, dragged into the light of day and withering under our scrutiny. And maybe it would be enlightening if the three men weren’t such insubstantial goofs from the very beginning. It’s like watching a David Mamet sketch performed by Webelos, and it makes you wish someone like Al Pacino would wander in, smash all the crockery and show these boys what misogyny really is.
Whipped just isn’t as biting or naughty as it thinks it is, and there’s little to laugh at either, since no one in the movie is sympathetic or amusing. Very little sex actually makes it to the screen, and what’s there is your basic post-coital huffing: Man rolls off Woman; Woman, in that strange and time-honored movie fashion, immediately yanks the sheets across her breasts; Man and Woman discuss how great it was. Writer-director Peter M. Cohen cares less about sex and more about how men talk about sex (mostly in euphemism, according to this movie e.g., “sucking the drainpipe” for rimming). Sex gives these guys a spurious sense of their own power, and Whipped is at its best when it shows the three guys jockeying for supremacy and getting under each other’s skin.
But Cohen is not in control of his own material. You’re never sure, from scene to scene, how you’re supposed to react because the acting doesn’t match the writing. Late in the movie, for instance, the guys’ married friend Eric recalls how he used to oblige his buddies by “diving on the grenade” i.e., going after the ugliest woman in the bunch so his pals could improve their chances with the others. The scheme eventually backfired when he “married the grenade,” as he puts it. The whole scene is played for rueful yucks, and yet I found myself sucking in my breath it struck me as a more contemptuous view of women than anything else purveyed in the film.
I was similarly confused during the movie’s final scene, when Mia expounds on all three men’s sexual shortcomings for an audience of rapt girlfriends. I think I was meant to be shocked that a woman could be as carnal and cold-hearted and dismissive as a man, yet I found Amanda Peet so relaxed and charming in this scene that the whole thing passed like a giddy breeze.
This is practically the only scene Peet gets to herself in the whole movie, so we never know the first thing about the character she plays or, come to think of it, any of the women in this movie. They’re only there to prove Cohen’s point, which is that women can be assholes, too (but only in the cause of showing men what assholes they are). “Everybody fucks everybody,” says Mia at the beginning of the film, and Cohen will forgive her that. What he won’t forgive her for is breaking up the boys, and so he has created two of the strangest scenes I’ve seen in a mainstream movie this year. In one, the married Eric experiences, in lieu of a sexual fantasy, a soft-focus montage-memory of gamboling with his three single pals. In a later, more explicit rendering of the same point, he pleads with Mia to leave his friends alone so they can all go back to being a merry Sunday foursome. Why? Because these outings are Eric’s only solace in the barren wastes of married life. (Instead of telling him to get lost, Mia gives him an off-screen blowjob.)
Sad to report, Eric’s worst fears come true and the Sunday foursome unravels. This, finally, is the saddest fate Peter M. Cohen can think to visit on a man: not to be screwed over by a woman but to be abandoned by his bestest buddies. Imagine having no one to rumple your hair anymore and call you “faggot.” Being a heterosexual man has never been this tough.
Louis Bayard and Nerve.com, Inc.