A Canadian film about making whoopie cracks some people up and has others calling for a crackdown.
First there was FCUK. And then there were bands like Holy Fuck and Fucked Up. And then Sarah Silverman was fucking Matt Damon.
And now there’s Young People Fucking.
Fuck is becoming the new black. Soon it’ll be everywhere and no one will give a rat’s ass. For now, it’s still a head turner.
Director Martin Gero says the controversial title of his debut Canadian feature film was actually a working title that stuck. “It was the first thing we came up with on the script, ’cause it spoke to the type of attack we wanted to put on the film: we wanted to be frank and honest and uncensored, basically,” he says in a downtown Vancouver hotel. “The title spoke to the type of language we wanted to use, the type of unblinking feel we wanted the film to have, and we never dreamed that it would be on the final print of the movie.”¦To their credit, our distributors kind of were like, ”˜You know what? I think the title really fits if we can figure out how to get away with it.’ ”
The title has put marketers in awkward situations (it’s being called YPF in the U.K. and U.S.). But over tea at a Commercial Drive café, actor Sonja Bennett, who won a Vancouver Film Critics Circle award for her performance in the film, points out that Canadian films need whatever attention they can get. “I think that Martin and [cowriter] Aaron [Abrams] are really smart, and the producers are really smart, because most Canadian movies—this one included—have such small budgets. We don’t have the budgets to publicize the way American films do. You gotta pull out whatever you can, and if having a catchy title creates buzz around the film and gets people to go see it, that’s fantastic.”
It’s easy to misinterpret the tone of the title, which, in fact, is tongue-in-cheek. Abrams, who stars as a guy whose best female friend proposes fuck-buddy sex, explains that the actual movie thwarts expectations. “It’s not like we’re naive to what the title is. It’s a sensational, attention-grabbing thing.”¦People come in and either expect something hard-core and edgy or expect something very juvenile. But what I like about that turn is that they’re always surprised by what they get, because it’s neither of those things.”
The film is a jauntily paced sex comedy that follows five stories about four couples and one threesome, each in different stages of a relationship (first date, best friends, roommates, married couple, exes). All set out to have straightforward sex but hit quagmires of communication and relationship problems. Each character has difficulty being honest with their partners, and sometimes with themselves. There are breasts, asses, and even a dildo. But the simulated sex is actually minimal. The majority of the film is dialogue.
And unlike the female-skewed Sex and the City, YPF plays to both sides of the gender equation.
Kristin Booth, who plays the sweet but sexually frustrated Abby, says she was impressed by how the writers portrayed women. “I was actually pleasantly shocked how well it captured the female perspective of sex, and, in fact, with my story line in particular, I was like, ”˜Those words have come out of my mouth,’ she says in a joint interview with Abrams at a downtown Vancouver hotel. “I thought they brilliantly wrote the female characters. Unbiased, too, just very honest.”
Gero admits he and Abrams overcompensated at first. “The thing that we were most nervous about, writing a movie with two guys, is that the female characters wouldn’t be [as] three-dimensional as the male characters. So we actually went too far the other way. In the first draft, all of the female characters were super well-developed and all the guys were flat and soft and pussies, basically.”
In spite of our sex-saturated era, Gero, who cut his teeth working on the locally shot science-fiction Stargate TV series (both Atlantis and SG1), found that the complications of sex weren’t being dealt with on-screen. “Most romantic comedies are about leading up to that first kiss, and sex comedies are like virginal. American Pie is about losing your virginity or masturbating with superglue. This was a huge and important part of our lives that had a ton of conflict in there—which breeds great comedy—that was not being written about or shot in movies.”
Booth explains that the movie undercuts any oversimplification of sex. “It’s called Young People Fucking, but what you realize as an audience member as you go on a journey with all these characters is that there’s no such thing as just fucking. As a generation, we’re like, ”˜Oh, we can have sex with no strings and we’re cool and we can experiment, and nobody’s feelings get hurt,’ but it’s just not true. It doesn’t exist.”
And, as Abrams points out, this sentiment is, ironically, a conservative stance.
If you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, why judge a movie by its title?
YPF was sucked into the eye of the Bill C-10 controversy (see this issue's cover feature for more information). Christian activists, without actually seeing the movie, nailed it as the type of movie that shouldn’t receive tax credits.
Yet like any storm, it’s far calmer at the centre. “We’re a perfect target because no one’s seen the film,” Gero says. “Once it’s out there, it’s not that controversial. But in a way that’s good, because when the movie does come, people’ll be like, ”˜This is what the big deal is about? Gimme a break!’ Certainly it’s been very, very good for the movie.”
Abrams thinks that the film will actually undermine the argument by C-10 proponents. “The film isn’t objectionable to anyone who’s actually seen it. Not only that, but we’ve been getting good reviews from national papers. They’re making a mistake by putting us at the front and centre of this bill. So, hopefully, if people go out and see it, it’ll kill the bill because they’ll realize within five minutes that it’s not objectional.”
The problem may be partly what defines Canadian movies. For CanCon film this past year, we’ve mostly had sensitive, serious-minded dramas, such as literary adaptations of Canadian classics (The Stone Angel, Fugitive Pieces), Holocaust survivors (Emotional Arithmetic), and post–car crash recovery (Normal). YPF is one of the few comedies, and one that’s going for a different demographic.
“So often Canadian movies are dark,” Bennett, daughter of local filmmaker Guy Bennett (Punch) says, “and it’s just really wonderful to be involved in a Canadian film that doesn’t have any incest or hockey in it. Like, what is so wrong with just going to a film and laughing really, really hard? If Canadian films want to compete in the market with big-budget American films, then we have to start making films that people want to go and see.”
In fact, the highest-grossing Canadian films haven’t been earnest, soul-searching art-house pieces. One of them was a sex comedy: Porky’s.
With all that in mind, what’s the big deal?
Quebec has taken delight in the Anglo-Canadian tizzy. “The French-Canadian response is they love it, because they’re like, ”˜Fuck, English Canada is so uptight.’ They’re all over it,” Gero says. “It’s rated 16A in Quebec and 18A everywhere else. And they’re taking a lot of personal pride in the fact that they’re not as sexually repressed as the rest of English Canada.”
The cast and crew have also found unexpected fans of the movie within their own families.
“My family loves the movie,” Gero says, “which is a super uncomfortable thing to talk about with them.” He says his grandmother saw it twice. “And she’s like, ”˜All that stuff was around when I was young.’ ”
Also, Gero says, Abrams’s dad invited couples in their 60s and 70s. During the scenes involving couples, they were poking and slapping each other. “It was really eye-opening.”¦We thought the film was going to be very generational but it actually plays much wider than we ever thought it might.”
Bennett saw the film with her grandparents. “My first shot of me naked—I just about slid on the floor. My grandparents loved it. They loved it. For the same reasons I love it: smart, witty, and has heart.”
It’s certainly one to see in the theatres. The Vancouver preview-screening audience laughed, tittered, and applauded at the end.
With all these things going for the movie, it’s clear that there are far worse things for Canadians to see. Like old people fucking.