Somewhere in Never Again there may be a good movie. There may even be two good movies in this film from writer-director Eric Schaeffer. The problem is that he merged a feel-good romantic comedy about a middle-aged couple with a broad sex farce. The two parts don’t come together to reinforce each other, but rather get in each other’s way resulting in a whole is considerably less than the sum of its parts.
Grace (Jill Clayburgh) is an attractive 54 year old divorcee who acknowledges she hasn’t gotten laid in fifteen years. Her friends Natasha (Sandy Duncan) and Elaine (Caroline Aaron) encourage her to do something about it; they start in an Internet chat room and line up a blind date who turns out to be a dwarf (Peter Dinklage). Now, there are a number of ways this could have been approached. Many contemporary raunch comedies would have had no inhibitions about using direct, politically incorrect outrageousness, milking laughs from insulting stereotypes and reinforcing prejudices. Never Again is too timid for that. Instead, the dwarf retains great dignity and it is Grace’s response/situation that is supposed to be funny. But not only isn’t it funny, it’s dishonest, too–why else is the character there, if not to be a source of sniggering humor?
Meanwhile, Christopher, an exterminator by day and a jazz musician by night, is also 54 and divorced. He’s been into one night stands, but now finds himself to be impotent. So, if he’s not getting turned on by women (after all these years), he figures that maybe he’s gay. Hello? This is the 21st century, this is New York City, and this guy is not a moron. The premise is ridiculous, but Schaeffer is stretching for some sex humor here and needs an entry to gay jokes. Things degenerate (no pun intended) from there–Christopher figures he should break in with a transsexual, which leads to one of the least funny assignations in any comedy of recent memory.
So the next step is for him to go to a gay bar, where he handles himself with wildly improbable naivete. The humor is on a primitive level, based simply on the direct articulation of what is generally not said in public. And, of course, who should he just happen to meet at the gay bar? Why Grace, who has dropped in to meet her girlfriends. They didn’t know it was a gay bar when they arranged to meet there. (And no three women in New York would have stayed long enough under those circumstances to order a drink.)
There is one very funny scene involving a dildo (a large, erect, very realistic dildo) which works on its own terms. It’s slapstick from the word go and that’s all right. But the situation itself is contrived. It neither moves the story ahead nor develops the characterizations in any way; it’s just tacked on.
Clayburgh (An Unmarried Woman, Fools Rush In), and Tambor (Pollock, Girl Interrupted) are both accomplished actors and have substantial charm here. There’s a nice love story in their middle-age romance, each working to break down defenses and fear of intimacy, having been burned before in love. And there’s plenty of room for the right kind of humor, including humor growing out of the sexual aspects of the situation, that would complement such a story. Once in a while Schaeffer comes up with such lines, but his more pressing determination to inject farcical raunch, at the level of a 1950s adolescent, drowns out the promise of the romantic angle.
In a story that suggests that new relationships can happen in middle-age, Schaeffer doesn’t give this couple a single interest in common, outside of their sexual reawakening. Jeff says he wants to grow old with Grace, but what the hell are they going to talk about for the next thirty years? Schaeffer hasn’t provided a clue.