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[whitespace] Bad Vibes

Beatty-bashing sex experts aren't aroused by 'Town & Country'

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Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it's a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas, and popular culture.

"Oh my god! That was so painful!"

"You know, I'd really like some mint tea."

And there you are.

The first of these two evocative utterances is delivered by Anne Semans, author and sex expert, as our group emerges, shaken and shell-shocked, from the sorry little theater where we've just seen Town & Country, a very bad sex comedy starring Warren Beatty and a group other people who really should have known better. The second remark--the one about tea--is made a few moments later by Cathy Winks--also an author, also a sex expert--and is directed at a waiter as we gather in a nearby restaurant to sip hot, comforting liquids and try to make some sense out of whatever it was we just saw.

This won't be easy.

Released after a three-year stint sitting on a studio shelf somewhere, the long-delayed Town & Country is a farce about a rich, married architect (Beatty) who alienates his wife (Diane Keaton) by flirting and/or sleeping with a string of neurotic women (Natasha Kinski, Jenna Elfman, Andie McDowell), including a life-long friend (Goldie Hawn), who is the wife of his best pal (Gary Shandling), an antique dealer having his own affair with a cross-dressing stud-muffin. The film attempts to skewer the self-obsessed lifestyle of the rich and bored. It wants to be smart and tries very hard to be funny.

It stinks.

"Have you ever had a dream," asks Semans, "that goes on and on and almost makes sense--while you're having it--but when you wake up, you say, 'Oh. That was one of those weird, nonsensical, bad dreams that just . . .won't . . end?' This movie was like that. "

"All I know," says Winks, "is that it just made sex look like something losers do."

Losers.

Exactly. Without exception, the men of Town & Country are all losers, bumbling dorks who can't formulate a coherent apology and who take their instructions entirely from their genitals. And the women! The women are either sex-crazed nutballs, babbling graduates from bimbo school, or shrill, shrieking shrews. Come to think of it, the only positive thing that can be said of this film is that both genders are represented equally, each portrayed as despicably as the other.

"It was impressively even handed, I'd say," Winks observes. "In Town & Country, everybody comes out looking bad."

Anne Semans and Cathy Winks are the co-authors of numerous books on the subject of sex, including The New Good Vibrations Book of Sex and The Woman's Guide to Sex on the Web. Just this month, they've celebrated the release of a brand new, much-anticipated guide book that is already sending pleasant little shock waves through bookstores and bedrooms around the country. The Mother's Guide to Sex: Enjoying Your Sexuality Through All Stages of Motherhood (2001, Three Rivers Press, $14.00) is a sensible, sensitive how-to for women committed to the notion that becoming a mother does not necessarily signal the demise of a really great sex life.

Unlike many sex guides, this one is not afraid to be funny. In fact, it's hilarious. Packed with catty asides and knowing jibes of the laugh-out-loud variety, the book has loads of practical, remarkably creative suggestions--check out the "Valentine for your Vulva" section--as a playful reminder to mothers (and fathers, too) that a healthy sense of sexual desire, while often a laughing matter, is certainly no joke.

Which brings us back to Town & Country.

In a pointed reference to my companions' previous books, I make the observation that the movie might have been funnier had it thrown in a timely internet sex scene or two. Or perhaps the odd sex toy. Alas, there are no such moments.

"There wasn't even very good sex in it.," says Semans. "It was just that silly kind of sex."

"That jokey, scrambly, pratfall-y kind of sex," adds Winks. "Which can be totally great in real life. Occasionally. But in this movie . . ."

"With guys like Warren Beatty," Semans says. "Or Gary Shandling . . ."

". . . It's just embarrassing. It's painful . . ."

". . . It's depressing."

Indeed. It's enough to give jokey, scrambly, pratfall-y sex a bad name.

As the movie opens, Beatty and Keaton are celebrating their 25th anniversary, an event that coincides with Beatty suddenly forgetting his wedding vows. With the energetic lack of sexual self-control he exhibits all over town, it's amazing the guy lasted 25 years.

"How do you make it through 25 years of happy monogamy," Semans wonders, "and then . . . what? He finally has a mid-life crisis?"

"At the age of 60?" Winks laughs. "Warren Beatty's at least 60, isn't he?"

"And all of a sudden he's jumping on every woman who says hello."

"Every woman who walks within ten feet."

"It was such a weird thing," Semans muses. "On one hand, it perpetuated the whole stereotype of men being led around by their penises--but at the same time, it was every man's wet dream, because every woman he ran into . . .

"All of them young, all of them gorgeous," Winks slips in.

". . .all ended up sleeping with him!" Semans shouts.

"It doesn't happen that way in real life, guys," Winks semi-exclaims. "Time to grow up! Warren Beatty, time to lose your persona of the whole bumbling-yet-irresistible, craggy, aging-before-your-very-eyes male. It doesn't work."

"I know. Ouch. Can we just not do that anymore?" Semans says. "I just don't believe that Jenna Elfman or Natasha Kinski or Andie McDowall would fall all over themselves to get into this guy's bed."

Yes. Well. Though clearly a risky move at this point, I choose to mention that Clint Eastwood--not to mention a zillion other rich Hollywood types--is married to gorgeous young women around Jenna Elfman's age.

"It's different if you're famous," Semans argues, amiably. "Famous guys can get younger women. But in these movies, they usually aren't playing famous guys. They're just . . .old guys, ordinary Joes who end up with young women."

"Besides, Clint is a sexy guy," replies Winks, smiling wickedly. "Unlike Beatty, he's aged well."

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From the May 10-16, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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