Written by Bryan Poyser, David DeGrow Shotwell, and Steven Walters
Directed by Bryan Poyser
Watching the new independent romantic dramedy Love & Air Sex, it’s easy to drift a bit to the memorable sight gag from an early-season episode of The Simpsons. In that story, the raging-id child Bart is running for class president, and Homer has decided to help on the campaign, drawing up a poster with the following tagline: “SEX! Now that I have your attention, vote for Bart.” The notion that even the mention of sex would distract a person enough to stay around for a potentially more nuanced message is likely part of what fueled the creation of Love & Air Sex, which promises to be more salacious than it actually is, instead seeming just like a 21st-century version of About Last Night…
The film begins with a fast-paced montage of a couple’s relationship in bloom. There’s Stan (Michael Stahl-David), a hopeful TV writer, and Cathy (Ashley Bell), a med-school student. Though their coupling seems predestined to lead to marriage, children, and other suburban trappings, Stan’s desire to write in Los Angeles runs against Cathy’s schooling in New York City, and so they go their separate ways. Six months later, Stan’s depressed and, when he sees that Cathy’s heading to Austin to meet an old mutual friend (Sara Paxton), he makes a spontaneous choice to head to Texas himself, in hopes of a reunion. Once there, he’s shocked to see that his own college buddy (Zach Cregger) is engaging in a sport of sorts called air sex. (Think air guitar, but…well, with sex.) Stan’s intent to reconnect with Cathy is waylaid, at first because he’s warned against doing so, and then because he becomes enamored of a young cellist (Addison Timlin).
The backdrop of air sex on what is a painfully conventional romantic comedy is, at least, a unique add-on to the proceedings. The problem, though, is that the second half of the title Love & Air Sex is vastly more intriguing and enjoyable than the first half. The main quartet, currently single but all licking their wounds from their relationships, are not nearly as fascinating as the script—by director Bryan Poyser, David DeGrow Shotwell, and Steven Walters—believes. Air sex may be an outrageous addition to this story—there’s very little reason for it to be part of the film, as Stan and Cathy never take part in it; Cathy’s not even present for any of the competition—but it is at least different from the standard-issue comedy where pretty young people find themselves unable to say the obvious words everyone watching is begging to be said. Whether or not Stan will find love with a cellist instead of Cathy, who may herself hook up with a divorced veterinarian/war veteran (the “vet/vet” duality is about as witty as this film gets), isn’t interesting; the mindset of a person who would compete in an air sex competition unquestionably is.
Stahl-David and Bell are both reasonably attractive, but also given such bland characters to play that they rarely are able to come alive in their performances. When Stan and the cellist, or Cathy and the divorced vet2, are talking to each other, the scenes approach the realm of the charming, but only briefly. It’s almost always that the other half of the conversation, not our ostensible lead characters, are providing the only real interest. Cregger and Paxton, in the prototypical comic-relief roles, are suitably raunchy and winning enough. Again, the issue is that their storylines frequently butt up against the soppy would-be romance at the core, to the point where they, near the end, shove their respective cell phones at each other; on the other end of the lines are Stan and Cathy, who are so hopelessly unable to talk to each other directly that they need to be so clearly guided.
Love & Air Sex provides a teachable moment: there is such a thing as air sex competitions that take place in this country. The competition itself is filmed in one of the Alamo Drafthouse theaters in Austin, where the film is set and shot. These scenes are undeniably raucous and unexpected in ways that the rest of the film can’t hope to achieve. What it doesn’t provide is a solid enough hook in its core romances, even those between the leading characters’ sidekicks. (Cregger and Paxton, as nastily funny as they can be, resolve things in a surprisingly sitcommy fashion.) A good 15 or so minutes of this movie is singular in the romantic-comedy genre; the rest of it is a Millennial rehash of everything we’ve seen before countless times.
— Josh Spiegel