Films — especially those in the genre of comedy — can often be enjoyable and interesting without really having anything of importance to say. Sex Ed, on the other hand, has something valuable to say, but its method of communication is somewhat lacking. That’s not to say it isn’t at all enjoyable or interesting, but rather that the subject matter is let down by a plot and script that stumble their way through the 90 minutes of running time as awkwardly as the protagonist, Eddie Cole, does through life.
Eddie, played by Haley Joel Osment (“The Sixth Sense”), is a 23-year-old whose life isn’t where he thought it would be; despite having been a student teacher at a high school, he has been rejected by the American Teaching Corps and is instead working at a bagel shop. Frustrated by the hand he has been dealt, he demands an interview and manages to get a job running an after school program. From his first day, it is clear that what these children need is a lesson in adolescent health issues — otherwise known as sex ed — and with no one else willing to have these conversations, Eddie steps up.
In this regard, Sex Ed makes an important point about the state of teenagers’ knowledge on the subject of sex and puberty, particularly in districts where sex ed is not allowed to be taught in schools. This is especially highlighted by the question and answer session held in a later class, where questions that seem almost comical to us bring the weight of the realization that these kids are exposed to terms and ideas on the internet and in daily life, without a solid grasp on what they really mean. While Reverend Hamilton believes that sex ed will encourage children to look at sex as a mechanical process devoid of God, and is trying to shut down these classes, Eddie — and the film — is trying to prove that a lack of education won’t prevent teenagers from being sexually active, but knowing about it might help them stay safe.
Because the film is a comedy, however, this message comes to us through an array of clichéd characters. Eddie himself is a virgin, because a virgin teaching a sex ed class is ironic. His best friend JT (Glen Powell, “The Expendables 3”) is sexually active enough for the both of them, but has recently found himself besotted with Ally (Castille Landon), and the two have a conspicuously healthy sex life. The couple help Eddie in his quest to court Pilar (Lorenza Izzo, “The Green Inferno”), the older sister of one of his students, and his every setback is followed by an uplifting talk with Sydney, an older, wiser, sassy black woman. Admittedly, Sydney is portrayed excellently by Retta, with all the attitude of her “Parks and Recreation” character Donna, but as a bartender who won’t allow Eddie to sit back and moan about his life.
Sex Ed does manage to keep things fresh at times, particularly through the characters of Pilar and Ally — rather than the stereotypical female characters one expects of a sex-oriented comedy, the two have distinct personalities that are teased out more and more throughout the film. It is disappointing therefore that a film that appears reasonably open minded and forward thinking then includes a scene involving Eddie’s disgust of a transgender prostitute that uncomfortably, seems transphobic.
The general direction of the film is commendable, and the ending in particular allows it to feel at least in some ways distinct from the smorgasbord of comedies centered around sex. The character of Eddie begins as a wallflower and develops into a self-assured man, and while this journey may be predictable, it is unique in its own ways, and enjoyable enough to watch. Yet after a trailer creating the promise of being something bold and unabashed, Matt Walsh’s candid comedy is the only aspect of Sex Ed that doesn’t end up falling flat.