Most readers will not have heard of the low-budget Canadian movie My Awkward Sexual Adventure. I had to review it because a) it was filmed in my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba b) one of the protagonists is a stripper (in fact, the club she works at in the movie is one that I work at regularly) and c) I found it infuriatingly filled with utter nonsense.
The film begins with pale, skinny, boring accountant Jordan (played by fellow Winnipeger Jonas Chernick, who is also the writer and producer) being so boring that his girlfriend, Rachel (Sarah Manninen), falls asleep during sex due to his being a completely dull lover. Just to be clear: accountants are very, VERY boring. Chernick clearly wanted to get this point across so that when we meet Julia-the-naturally-sexually-adventurous-stripper (Emily Hampshire) later, her life comes across as even more wild and disorganized in contrast to Jordan’s tedious and meticulous existence.
After Jordan’s girlfriend breaks up with him, he travels to Toronto (clearly Winnipeg’s Exchange District, but sure, I’ll pretend it’s Toronto) to visit his friend Dandak (Vik Sahay). Soon enough, Jordan moves on to the next stage in the heterosexual man’s break-up mourning cycle: get drunk as fuck at a strip club and get tossed out into the back lane by a bouncer. Enter Julia, who, after finishing her shift, finds Jordan passed out in a pile of garbage bags behind the club. She feels compelled to help him due to the fact that he lent her some spare change so she could purchase a bag of chips from the vending machine in the club. In real life, there’s no vending machine inside this club, and I’ll admit, I was extremely distracted by the little inaccuracies of the strip club setting used in the movie (hey, that’s not where the dressing room is! The private dance areas aren’t over there! That’s not what this club is called!). I was wondering the whole time why they bothered to alter it. I mean, it’s a real strip club, why not just let it be?
This is where Julia performs a very un-stripper like act: she decides to take Jordan to her apartment and let him sleep it off on her couch. Don’t get me wrong, I’d feel bad for the guy, but the too-drunk-I-just-got-dumped-by-my-girlfriend customers are a dime a dozen in this business, and we can’t go letting all of them sleep on our couches. He did her a favor, sure, but how much could she possibly owe him for a bag of chips? Plus, customers buying us food, gifts, and/or drinks is as common as tipping, if not more so. With this in mind, Julia’s excessive sympathy for Jordan is perplexing.
When Jordan wakes up on Julia’s couch, he discovers a giant box of sex toys sitting in the middle of the living room (because what legit stripper does NOT keep a giant box of dildos and vibrators on her coffee table for all to see?) in addition to some sort of S&M apparatus. I don’t know much about the private sex lives of my co-workers, so I couldn’t comment on the frequency of S&M preferences amongst them. I can say, however, that I’ve never been welcomed into anyone’s home, stripper or not, and seen their sex toys blatantly on display. I mean, what if Mom and Dad come to visit?! It seems to me, that by including these unlikely items as part of the décor of Julia’s apartment, we are being reminded that hyper-sensuality pervades a stripper’s entire life, not just her workplace persona.
Sadly, not everything we do is super sexy and fun, although we might lead our customers to believe this is true. Outside of the fantasy world we create within the walls of the strip club, we are also weighed down by the mundanity of day to day living; grocery shopping, paying the bills, cooking, cleaning, zoning out in front of the tv, fights with loved ones. Julia is presented as pure fantasy, aside from a few character flaws that were needed to drive the plot, including her ineptitude at managing her finances. After finding out Julia is close to bankruptcy, Jordan gets an idea. “Hey, why don’t you teach me how to be an exciting lover in exchange for my money management advice?” That’s not a direct quote, but you get the general idea. Julia is a stripper. Julia has a giant box of sex toys. Therefore, Julia must be as fantastic in the sack as he is with numbers.
During the course of their arrangement, Jordan is surprised to learn that Julia has an exceptional talent and passion for cooking. This leads Jordan to make the oh-so-patronizing yet all-too-common “why do you strip when you can [fill in the blank]?” speech (also commonly known as the “you’re better than this” or “what’s a girl like you doing in a place like this” speech). Over one of Julia’s fabulous dinners, Jordan’s speech proceeds thusly: “Maybe it’s a vicious circle, maybe you spend all this money on all this stuff because you’re unhappy in your career and trying to fill a hole in your life. You say you’re bad with money because it gives you an out from taking a risk and trying something that will make you really happy.” Wow! He’s an accountant AND a life coach! Julia simply stares down at her plate in silence. In a later strip club scene Julia tells Jordan “I like working here,” but it’s clearly a statement that we’re not supposed to believe. Julia is just kidding herself. God, if she would just quit stripping she could become the next Nigella Lawson!
In another scene full of stripper stereotypes, Jordan takes Julia to meet her bank manager to see if she can take out a loan. When the bank manager says she’ll need a co-signer like a parent, sibling, or friend, Julia storms out of the bank proclaiming all her friends are strippers “so they have assets but not the kind you’re talking about.” Hm. Clever pun, but…I guess we’re supposed to assume that all strippers are terrible with money and don’t own anything but the clothes on their backs? (Interestingly enough I have a dancer friend who is also an accountant. Imagine that.) Oh, and we’re also not supposed to forget that dancers don’t have families, and if they do, they are too “fucked up” themselves to help their stripper relatives.
The rest of the movie follows your typical rom-com narrative arc, with Jordan’s girlfriend taking him back after Julia teaches him how to properly perform cunnilingus by using a cantaloupe. Well, ok, typical minus the cantaloupe cunnilingus scene. Predictably, Jordan eventually realizes that he’s really in love with Julia. And how does Jordan ultimately win Julia’s heart? By opening a restaurant in Toronto so he can hire her as a chef. Julia is so touched by this gesture she even sheds a Saved Stripper tear. And they live happily ever after. The end.
Seriously? I’m left with several questions. First of all, how much do chefs make? She doesn’t even ask Jordan how much he will pay her if she takes the job. In one scene we learn that Julia made $600 in one night at the club, a “slow day” she says. Does chef-ing pay more than that? If not, how is she ever going to pay off her debt? You’ll also recall her saying she liked stripping, yet Jordan didn’t believe her, and went ahead with buying the restaurant anyway. Silly strippers. You just can’t trust them to know what they really want.
As a stripper, and as a Winnipeger, I really wanted this film to be good, but it missed the mark on so many levels. I actually feel terribly guilty for writing this review. My Awkward Sexual Adventure isn’t some big-budget Hollywood movie, after all, but a small Canadian production featuring actors that are barely known within this country, let alone outside of it. It’s not that the actors aren’t talented. As suggested by the other reviews that I’ve read, non-strippers (and non-accountants?) seem to find this movie amusing, but it’s difficult for me to look past the sad old stripper archetypes that were used as templates for Julia’s character. Evidently, no one bothered to consult any of the dancers who actually work at the strip club Julia works at in the film. If they had, they might have created a more nuanced character for her, and while they were at it, it may have also been beneficial to seek advice from some accountants for the sake of Jordan’s character development. Instead, Julia and Jordan are reduced to caricatures of their occupations, an idea reinforced by the supporting actors’ tendency to refer to them as “the stripper” or “that accountant” rather than using their names. This seems to serve the purpose of highlighting over and over again how different these jobs, and the people they are attached to, are from each other. It would have been refreshing to see Julia and Jordan find some common ground in their complexity as human beings, rather than constantly hitting us over the head with the fact that they are fundamentally different because of their career choices. In the end, this film is a failed attempt to merge the food innuendo used in American Pie and the Captain Save-a-Ho storyline of Pretty Woman. In true Canadian fashion, to invoke yet another stereotype, I politely request better from our home grown talent next time, please and thank you.
on Netflix (as An Awkward Sexual Adventure)