4.7/10
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8 user 12 critic

Sex with Strangers (2002)

A documentary film about couples that swing.

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Storyline

For some married couples, sex is an obsession that overwhelms their belief in strict monogamy. The ability to act out their sexual fantasies is more important than upholding any convention of love or marriage. Sex with Strangers paints an authentically intimate portrait of three such couples, from the euphoria of fantasies fulfilled to the desperation of splintering relationships, showing how their lives are profoundly affected by the lifestyle they lead. James and Theresa, a couple in their thirties, use their motor home as a pleasure palace travelling from club to club seducing couples wherever they go. Calvin and Sarah are thinking about getting married when they meet Julie, who doesn't swing, and isn't bisexual - until she falls for Calvin. Psychodrama almost displaces sex for Shannon and Gerard, who are passionate about swinging, even as they question whether the lifestyle is really for them. With unprecedented access to their lives, Sex with Strangers explores the reality of ... Written by Anonymous

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And you thought monogamy was hard...

Genres:

Documentary | Drama

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Release Date:

22 February 2002 (USA)  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$11,478 (USA) (22 February 2002)

Gross:

$247,740 (USA) (22 November 2002)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Soundtracks

I Just Want To Make Love To You
Written by Willie Dixon
Performed by Foghat
Courtesy of Rhino Entertainment Company and Beaversviille Records
By Arrangement With Warner Special Products
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User Reviews

Concerns about authenticity overshadow any remaining qualities

Joe and Harry Gantz are known for the reality-based television series Taxicab Confessions, where hidden cameras are placed in taxis, and passengers are recorded telling intimate details about themselves to the driver. The series has won many awards for documentary, and served to usher in a new and unique way of peeking into people's private lives.

In the film, Sex with Strangers, the Gantz brothers are up to something new again, but this time, it's not entirely clear what it is. I'll explain that in a moment.

On the surface, the film appears to be a documentary, following three sets of couples who "swing" - that is, have sex with other couples. James and Theresa are classic swingers who aggressively seduce couples wherever they go; their protégé Calvin attempts to share his sexual freedom with two jealous lovers, Sara and Julie; and psychodrama almost displaces sex for Shannon and Gerard, who aren't sure whether swinging is the way to go to preserve their marriage. By embracing a free sexual lifestyle, all of these swingers have to constantly deal with issues of trust, power, intimacy and love.

It's so real, and the plots move along so well, and the dialog is so well chosen that… wait, is this really a documentary? Or, is it really a scripted movie with actors that make it look like one? About 30 minutes into the movie, my attention drew to certain technical details like, "how did they get a camera into that really small space? Oh, and there's another camera angle! Oh, and a third! Wait, that space couldn't possibly fit all those people and all those cameras and still be an authentic scene. Do people really act natural in such settings?" Then I started noticing things in the dialog: too perfect. Words chosen well. There are times when people sort of stutter over their words or stop to think a moment, but not nearly often enough. I've seen a lot of documentaries, and few are as polished as this.

And then there's the climax - the ends of all the stories just come together too well. The scenes appear to be too set up, and the scenarios too concocted. I started feeling "lied to". I went to the production notes and the movie's web site, and my suspicions were raised even higher. Words are also carefully chosen, such as: "Most documentaries search for defining moments[...] This extraordinary film is filled with such revelations..." Note: It doesn't call itself a "documentary", it calls itself a "film." Reading it carefully, the entire text appears to be chosen in a way that could suggest that they were prepared to be disclosed. If you read the official sites of other, known documentaries, they are overwhelmingly explicit in the background of the film, how they went about it, and many other things. But for this film, it's all very ambiguous.

If I'm right, the film's main problem is that it's relying on a gimmick of lying to the audience much the same way Jerry Springer and all those "talk" shows were. The appeal of those shows was the notion that the "guests" were real people. When it was disclosed that it was all staged, those shows lost their appeal.

I don't care that I'm lied to, but if you're going to do it, there's a lot more intelligent ways to go about it. Championship Wrestling is one example. Everyone knows its fake, but that's part of the fun of it. (I don't particularly enjoy wrestling, but I recognize and acknowledge its appeal to others.)

If I'm wrong, and the film is actually real, I fault the filmmakers for making it too simplistic and not fleshing out more of the culture and environment of the lifestyle and the people behind it.

I don't dispute whether serious research went into this, as the notes indicate. (A year was spent with couples to learn their lifestyle, but it doesn't specifically say that these were the people in the film.) Either way you look at it, the film came across as a soap opera, where the main intent is to taunt the audience with risqué scenes, villains and victims, and the drama of people making clearly stupid choices in their mates. Sex with Strangers positioned itself as a documentary to give serious insight into swingers and their lifestyles, but it didn't - it just showed a few selected couples and tunneled the entire movie into only their lives. While it showed very realistic portrayals, they were all two-dimensional.


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