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Even though it’s never been easier to find out about everything you wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask by a simple Google search, it’s still possible for a character like Lucy (Lucy Hale) to not only be afraid to look into the topic but even feel a little bit disgusted by it all. In Chris and Nick Riedell’s romantic sex comedy “A Nice Girl Like You,” Lucy’s idea of making love is only something to tolerate and talk herself through. Occasionally, she’ll even remember something off of her grocery list during sex, much to the dismay of her boyfriend, Jeff (Stephen Friedrich). Somehow they’ve squeaked by on four years of an unsatisfying relationship, but that ends the night Lucy discovers Jeff watched porn. Scandalized, she confronts him, to which he argues back that Lucy is “pornophobic.” Lucy forces Jeff to choose between porn or her, and well, he packs up and leaves, accidentally setting the type-A, list-making Lucy off on a journey of self-discovery to explore the wide world of porn and sex.
There are a few pleasures in “A Nice Girl Like You,” the most striking being the relationship between Lucy and her friends. Distraught over the break-up, Lucy retreats to work as a violinist and the counsel of her friends and quartet-mates, Priscilla (Mindy Cohn), Nessa (Jackie Cruz) and Paul (Adhir Kalyan), all of whom somehow contribute to her porn education. Yet, in other moments when they need her, she’s there for them, too, making it feel as if they don’t only exist to support her. Then there’s Grant (Leonidas Gulaptis), a terribly charming guest at a wedding Lucy works who eagerly chats her up and doesn’t have the same shame-filled views around sex that she does. His presence may distract a bit from Lucy’s self-fulfillment, but he adds a fantasy element to the story and a sort of goal for Lucy to work towards.
If “A Nice Girl Like You” would have stayed the course of the book it’s based on, Ayn Carrillo-Gailey’s 2007 memoir Pornology, it might have been an interesting enough premise. Instead, Andrea Marcellus’ screen adaptation whitewashes the main character and moves the narrative into a more conventional territory, one centered on love over lust, tame over the risque. Certain conversations around sex feel rather dated or muted in 2020, and more often than not, a lot of the movie’s humor hinges on finding sex inherently embarrassing. Lucy never reflects on why or how she might have picked up these negative attitudes towards sex, and the movie never fully sheds her othering perspective on porn performers, strippers or sex workers. The way Lucy looks at them or talks about them keeps them at arm’s length.
While the supporting characters bring a much-needed perspective to Lucy, sometimes they become tropes themselves. Pricilla is a married woman bored with her sex life, Nessa is a Latina who’s really into sex and of course, Paul is a strip club regular because according to the movie, that’s what guys are into. The concept of sex in this movie is very rooted in heterosexual relationships and gender essentialism, and there’s next-to-no acknowledge of queer relationships or even exploring that aspect of porn. In fact, most of Lucy’s list of porn and porn-adjacent things to try are mostly set-ups for surface-level jokes about visiting a sex shop for the first time or learning about sex toys.
Other jokes are so contrived, they’re not funny but cringe-worthy in the tradition of the Farrelly brothers, like when Lucy’s embarrassed by a sex toy at work or when she unwittingly puts an erection cream on her lips, swelling them up as if she’d been stung by bees. There are other bumps in “A Nice Girl Like You,” including its choppy start when the narrative bounces back and forth in Lucy’s story and briefly uses a voiceover to hear Lucy’s inner dialogue. Thankfully, both affectations do not last past much longer than the first 15 minutes. The Riedells and cinematographer Nico Van den Berg also stumble by overlighting the movie and keeping its shots static, adding to the movie’s blandness.
And while I have “A Nice Girl Like You” to thank for the line, “I thought you were evolved. We met at a film festival, for God’s sake!”, it leaves much to be desired. There’s a sharp movie to be made about getting over an aversion to sex, but this one plays it relatively safe. It sticks to very conventional marks—after all, the liberation of Lucy only leads her back to the safe confines of a monogamous straight relationship and not much reflection of what she’s actually learned or embraced from her porn quest. Since there are different strokes for different folks, I hope this sex rom-com can be someone else’s cup of tea even though it wasn’t for me.
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