Brits can be more than a bit awkward when it comes to romance and sex – go on, admit it! – but our film makers are pretty good when it comes to depicting all that embarrassment and cringing on screen. Especially when it’s in the context of a rom com. And that’s exactly what’s on offer in A Guide To Second Date Sex (known in some countries by the snappier Second Date Sex), written and directed by Rachel Hirons, who was also behind the original stage play.
The production played the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 and moved to London, attracting rave reviews, but the film’s cinematic release was one of those cancelled because of the current situation, hence its arrival this Monday on digital. It’s a look at two late twenty somethings, Ryan (George MacKay) and Laura (Alexandra Roach) who’ve emerged with all the baggage that comes with the break-up of a long term relationship and are looking to date again. And, while they get on well enough on their first meeting in a club, their second “date” is less relaxed because they’re both painfully conscious that sex may – or may not – be on the agenda. Worse still, they’re hampered in their attempts to get to know each other by his housemates and her friends.
With a setting confined mainly to his chaotic house, and often his bedroom, it’s at home on a smaller screen and that cramped feeling is enhanced by Hirons having shot those scenes in a North London terraced house. All the doors, plus two house mates – one loud and tactless, the other an oddball introvert – feel like they’ve been moved wholesale from the stage and add to the more farcical style of the storyline which develops in the second half, when an unexpected but extremely disruptive guest arrives. They also manage to liven things up because, until then, the film carries “taking things slowly” to the extreme and the long awkward pauses, which were probably effectively funny on the stage, simply don’t hit the mark.
What keeps things going is the appeal of the two main actors. This was George MacKay’s third film of the year, after the huge success of the epic 1917 and The True History Of The Kelly Gang, which received more mixed reviews. In this low-budget offering, his star quality is still apparent, making Ryan appealingly diffident and clumsy, saying the wrong thing at just about every turn. Alexandra Roach’s Laura is frustrated by living at home again with her mother after the painful collapse of her marriage and is constantly on the phone asking her friends for advice – and getting it. Not that it’s much help. The two hold the whole thing together, but the pacing of the film – and sometimes the script – simply lets them down.
It’s easy enough to guess how things turn out for the couple, but the film doesn’t fare quite so well, with your attention wandering when things get slow – and they do that more often than they should. At time when Fleabag has radically changed sexual comedy for ever, it also feels out of touch and more than a little dated.
Comedy, Romance | Cert: 15 | Sparky Pictures | Digital, 20 April 2020 | Dir. Rachel Hirons | George MacKay, Alexandra Roach, Emma Rigby, Michael Socha