Hulu’s first original film of 2022 premieres on January 14th, a raunchy teen comedy called Sex Appeal, with emphasis on “App.” Produced by American High, the studio behind other Hulu originals including Big Time Adolescence, The Binge, The Ultimate Playlist of Noise, and Plan B, the film feels like a contemporized throwback to the teen comedies of the 80s and 90s, even referencing a few of them along the way. But is Sex Appeal in the same league as titans of the genre like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Clueless?
Avery Hansen-White (Mika Abdalla, Cruel Summer) is an overachieving senior in high school who is more excited for STEMCON (a national science fair competition) than the prom, where she will be reunited with her brainy long-distance boyfriend Casper (Mason Versaw, tick, tick…BOOM!). A function of this year’s STEMCON theme to solve a personal problem and Casper’s desire to take their relationship to the next level, Avery starts work on an app that can help her become great at sex, too. But when she loops in her childhood buddy Larson (Jake Short, A.N.T. Farm), Avery learns that the scientific method can’t be applied to everything in life.
Cringe comedy is the main course served up in Sex Appeal, but how uncomfortable you get largely depends on how easily you blush. Avery’s world is already full of unusual sexual encounters, such as playing with vibrators as a child in a home with two mothers (comedians Margaret Cho and Fortune Feimster) who are also in a polyamorous relationship with a third woman (Rebecca Henderson) in a home full of vaginal-inspired decor. You might think this would make sex a less taboo topic for a high school senior, but Avery needs science to help her overcome everything.
The film presents a morally ambiguous line for Avery to cross, where despite having a closed relationship with a long-distance boyfriend, she makes a deal with her childhood friend to “Practice” sex stuff. Much of these moments feel like they need a Carrie Bradshaw narration to ground them a little bit. If Sex and the City had been just Samantha’s non-monogamous escapades, it wouldn’t have resonated the way it did. While watching Sex Appeal, you’re all at once recoiling inside with discomfort and finding reasons to be entertained.
The real highlight of the film, beyond stellar performances from Mika Abdalla and Jake Short, are fantasy sequences that are born out of moments of sexual exploration. Despite the film’s subject matter, there’s no nudity and sexual encounters take you just to the moment at which they would become pornographic, then transition to a pink-lensed fantasy sequence. Whether it’s a rocket preparing for blastoff or synchronized swimming, the double entendre comes alive in visually funny ways.
Written by Tate Hanyok, who appears as a teacher in the film, and directed by Talia Osteen, Sex Appeal feels like it was meant to be a more female-centric version of a sex-infused teen comedy classic ala American Pie (which is also referenced in the film). However, it lacks any truly iconic moments to have a lasting impact and unless there’s been a paradigm shift through which most teenage girls are no longer interested in monogamous relationships, Avery is ultimately hard to relate to.
I give Sex Appeal 2 out of 5 Busby Berkeley synchronized swimming routines.
Sex Appeal premieres Friday, January 14th on Hulu.
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).