“Rio Sex Comedy” is a title that’s maybe about half true. There’s certainly tons of Rio, as that’s the city that the film is set in, but there’s not a whole lot of sex and even less comedy. A more accurate title would be “Rio Drama,” but that wouldn’t sell, would it? Include “sex” and “comedy” in your title and you can guarantee some viewers, even if you don’t market your film and barely scrape together a DVD release after your film did poorly at the festival circuit.
So, we have Rio Sex Comedy, which is all of this. I’m not sure how many festivals it got to, but seeing as it has few reviews online, I can’t think that number is very high. The DVD tells me that it made it to Toronto, which is something to be proud of, but I wonder how much of that audience laughed. I know I didn’t, except for at one part that I can’t even remember as of writing. I’d think about re-watching to find that one part, but then I’d have to sit through two hours of people walking around Rio de Janeiro, learning about a different culture, and showing no respect for anyone even remotely close to them emotionally.
This is an ensemble film, with a few main stories that we follow. Since it arguably gets the most focus, let’s start with the storyline involving a French woman, Irène (Irène Jacob), who is currently in Rio to interview a bunch of maids who are mistreated by their employers. She’s filming a documentary of sorts, although that gets forgotten about after she begins having an affair with her husband’s brother, Robert (Jérôme Kircher). Seriously, the whole plot point involving the documentary is completely dropped to allow us more time to watch this bubbling romance. The translator, allowing the French woman to speak to the maids of Rio disappears in the middle of the film for no reason, as no more filming of this documentary takes place.
Next, we have the U.S. Ambassador, William (Bill Pullman), who doesn’t want to be an ambassador and therefore runs away and hides with a couple of people living in the local favela. It’s here where he actually learns more about what the population needs, how the government is ignoring the poor, and so on, which might allow him to do his job if he actually wanted to do it. A couple of interesting characters in this plot include Fish (Fisher Stevens) and Iracema (Daniela Dams), who get their own subplot involving their love or lack thereof.
Finally, we have a plastic surgeon named Charlotte (Charlotte Rampling) who has come to Rio in search of philanthropy but soon enough realizes that she’d rather work at a private office. Here, she does absolutely no surgery and basically convinces everyone that they’re perfect the way they are. She’s the “moral” character to our story; while everyone else is trying to change in order to be approved by everyone else, she’s fighting to get everyone to stay the same. This is despite being the “best plastic surgeon” in the entire city, which makes me question her career of choice.
I can kind of see where writer/director Jonathan Nossiter was going with this. In one story, abusive house owners are targeted. In the second, the government is. Finally, we have the superficial crowd who all want to look like celebrities. Okay, it all makes sense on that level, and I can appreciate that the film is quite clearly about something, but is there anything else to admire? From where I’m sitting, there isn’t much.
The problem is that none of the individual stories work on any other level than accusing their preferred target, and even then none of them do anything than point out things that we already know. Gee, the government shouldn’t ignore problems with part of its population? That’s a huge surprise, Rio Sex Comedy. Please, tell me more. None of these characters act like human beings; they instead act like impulsive parasites, doing whatever they want whenever they want just because they want to — and it will benefit them and hurt someone else.
It’s possible that one or two of these stories would work if expanded to feature length. The affair storyline might be worth watching, and the Fish/Iracema one, which involves a white guy and a Native girl involved in a relationship, could be poignant. But mashed together with these other ones, and there’s nothing here worth seeing. Any interesting idea isn’t given enough time to develop, and as a result, there’s nothing to take from the film except for the potshots that get taken that you’re already aware of and therefore didn’t need to see anyway.
Since none of the individual stories works in the context that they’re presented in, we’re left watching dull plots play out that contain nothing even remotely close to genuine insight or emotional involvement. It’s like if you were to follow random people around Rio for a few days. You might learn about their lives, but how much do you really expect someone to grow in that period, or make a point that’s actually important? Not much, is my answer, and the film supports my conclusion.
Rio Sex Comedy contains a lot of Rio, little sex, and one scene of comedy. There’s little fun thanks to containing too many stories, and as a result, there’s nobody to care about and nothing to take. The film wants to be about something, and if it had limited itself in scope, it might have been engaging and interesting. Unfortunately, it took the ensemble route, which means that none of the stories are impactful and the film is a waste of time for its audience.