Emma (Emily Hampshire) and Josh’s (Jonas Chernick) first kiss was at a summer camp as teenagers and, minus a few break-ups here and there, they’ve been together ever since. They’re best friends, awesome parents, and, because of their two daughters being their focus for every waking second of every single day, mutually apathetic to the concept of sex. So, now that it’s the girls’ time to start going to that same camp, Emma and Josh have no clue what to do with their independence. And maybe they should read into the fact that suggesting sex (with the door open and as loud as they want) came after “go to a matinee.” They should read even harder upon discovering they’ve all but forgotten how to do it.
Written by Chernick and directed by Sean Garrity, The End of Sex delivers a raunchy conceit (figure out new and unexpected ways to reinvigorate a stale sex drive) in an endearingly wholesome way. Because neither Emma nor Josh is unhappy. They wouldn’t change anything for the world. It’s merely that they’re stumped insofar as how they’ve gotten here and what it could mean for the future. They used to be sexually active. They like sex. It’s simply fallen to the background over the years as something that didn’t need to be nurtured or evolved. And yet, maybe that was a mistake. Seeing old friends swearing in the supermarket before announcing they’ve separated is a wake-up call. So is Emma having sex fantasies about Marlon (Gray Powell).
The plan: bring something fresh to the table, no judgments. To their credit, they initially stick to that last part. One suggests a threesome only to have the experience unwittingly render the other into a third wheel watching. The other suggests a swinging sex club only to find a half empty bar full of men and seniors mingling in the front with a way too intense “high roller” area in the back populated by exhibitionists (with some mortifyingly familiar faces) devoid of all shame. Eventually they even resort to drugs in the hopes a bit of MDMA can relieve the mounting pressure that carte blanche still hasn’t lit the fire. And the more frustrated they get, the more honest about themselves they become. Maybe life isn’t so perfect.
Hampshire and Chernick are the straight men in this scenario. Vanilla, awkwardly self-deprecating, and completely unprepared with the chaos that ensues when giving external parties the latitude to drive the bus sexually for them. Their rapport is fantastic with shared looks of confusion whenever things start getting out of hand. They often just stare at each other while letting the latest situation play out with as little conflict as possible before laughing and cringing about it the next day as though they had just tried a new restaurant rather than a second vagina. It’s that nonchalance that makes The End of Sex so much fun because the film feels more like an adventure than a melodrama. An implosion is coming, but its catalyst is insecurity rather than resentment.
The back half’s more serious tone proves an authentic reaction to the first half’s zanier escapades. Because even though nothing is happening between Emma and Marlon (the latter’s penchant for speaking without filter leads to some of the funnier bits since she can’t help laughing at his candor—or being excited by it), the desire for that flirtation isn’t nothing. She needs to figure out what it means just like Josh must process his repressed feelings about seemingly being the one getting left behind as Emma expresses an appetite for more. That’s where the façade breaks down to let jealousy in. The question they must ask is whether their declining sex life is a sign of them pulling apart or the strength of their love to endure it.
Powell’s Marlon is undeniably memorable and his women counterparts on the side character front are just as entertaining. Melanie Scrofano plays Emma’s friend and coworker Wendy—an adventurous bisexual who might be harboring a crush. Lily Gao fulfills the same role with Josh—a much younger active disbeliever in monogamy who offers a mirror towards exactly how out of the loop he is when it comes to romance. Not that either woman is without her own issues. Part of the fun here is that none of the main characters are devoid of three-dimensionality to exist outside of just their relationship with the central couple. They have complexity and autonomy to both be included and not be thrown away when their purpose is complete. They’re simultaneously providing advice and hijinks.
It leads to a great time at the movies with a subject that’s surely more relatable than most married couples with kids would care to admit. And to see it depicted without an agenda to destroy is a nice change of pace to the usual over-the-top desire for the fireworks constructed from stereotyping genders rather than allowing the lead couple to be humans first. Emma and Josh are experiencing this weird journey together just like they did the enriching if celibate one before it. And we want them to come out the other side stronger even as they spiral out of control. Because fantasies and curiosities are normal. The willingness and trust that goes into talking about them is the rarity. Have that and you can overcome anything.
The End of Sex premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.