It’s funny how many movies exist that try and prove that love isn’t all about sex. Even the raunchiest of sex comedies over the years have tried making this a caveat at the very least. While obeying many laws of this reliable genre, Nico Raineau’s 2020 romantic comedy Hooking Up makes this point in a very specific and, ultimately, unique fashion. The story follows a sex addict (Brittany Snow) and a man who’s about to lose his testicles from cancer (Sam Richardson) as they take a road trip and embark on a new relationship with one another.
Snow plays Darla, a magazine editor and sex columnist. Or ex-columnist as she’s just lost her job and has been acquiescently and somewhat belligerently attending an addiction group when she meets Bailey (Richardson), a man attending a cancer support group in the room next door. After an embarrassing encounter revealing that Bailey’s cancer has returned and he’s about to lose his second testicle, Darla has the idea of recreating her every sexual exploit with him as they drive across the country in order to give him one last hurrah and also for her to get a great story that may get her her job back – unbeknownst to Bailey.
On paper (and poster), this may look like a recipe for disaster, but Hooking Up isn’t a bad movie by any means. It depicts an interesting topic with a certain insight that still occasionally distances itself from the typical rom-com fair. Snow gets the chance to flex her acting chops a bit more than usual and the journey to the end of the movie is, at the very least, entertaining.
Hooking Up never quite strays from any kind of narrative formula, including all the requisite amounts of recurring conflict, but makes the ride as fun and interesting as possible. Director and co-writer Raineau squeezes every last drop out of this premise, even if it only produces so much juice in the first place.
The “comedy” portion of the rom-com may be where this film exposes its weakness. While the actors and the script handle the more serious elements of the story with a firm integrity, Raineau and his cast fail to ever produce more than one or two organically funny scenarios. While the two leads have decent chemistry, their earnest efforts to do the whole comedic banter thing almost always falls flat, making for a few cringe-worthy attempts at humor.
Neither actor is inherently unfunny, but sometimes there still has to be comedic talent in the writers’ room for a film to make us laugh. Richardson is likable, but always looks like he’s about to break character. The actor has a unique quirkiness and possesses very nonstandard leading man idiosyncrasies, but he’s probably the right kind of unsettling to make a movie like this stand out just a little bit more than its contemporaries.
Amidst the levity there are some truly depressing moments, which actually benefit, oddly, from the lack of humor, actually making these instances significantly less jarring. Hooking Up tries to address the delicate and oft-misunderstood matter of sex addiction and depicts both of its heavy topics with a clear vision, but we can’t help feel like the filmmakers wanted this movie to be an all-out sex romp as well. And while it never truly commits to either of its conflicting tones, we also don’t feel robbed of either character’s experience by the end.
Jordana Brewster has a disappointingly small role as Darla’s boss at the magazine, but gives the best performance in the film, playing the pseudo-antagonist part well. But that’s the thing about this movie that I like the most. It never vilifies any of its characters, yet still finds a way to justify the story’s ultimate conflict. It takes the time to view scenarios from each perspective without forcing the matter or feeling agenda-driven. Even Brewster’s character never does anything bad. If anything, the antagonist in Hooking Up is addiction and cancer, two villains everyone can and should agree to hate.