There’s a scene early in Two Night Stand where one of the two leads cannot enter a bar because she forgot her ID. Her forgetfulness is not charming – it’s both gendered and irksome – and the script doubles down on this quirk when she laments, at age 22, she’s “Benjamin Buttoning” toward immaturity. It is unclear whether screenwriter Mark Hammer and director Max Nichols are aware of the joke’s inherent irony, which is frustrating since parts of their film demonstrate a canny understanding of modern hook-ups in a way that few movies do. Many romantic comedies are shy about the particulars of sex. At last, here is one that discusses them openly, even if they’re sandwiched by cringe-worthy contrivances.
The young woman is Megan (Analeigh Tipton), a recent pre-med graduate who drifts through her East Village life with boozy ennui. After returning home, she decides the best solution to get over her ex is not a bar, but a casual hook-up. She arranges to meet Alec (Miles Teller) after a short IM conversation, and an even shorter video chat (the opening credits show Megan setting up her online dating profile). Nichols them jumps forward to the following morning, and the conversation shifts from awkward to rude. Megan wants nothing more to leave, except they’re snowbound in Alec’s Brooklyn apartment. They start chatting. At first, the primary goal is to abate the gnawing cabin fever, then the pair discover that – shocker – they actually like each other. Alec presents a humble proposal: he suggests they hook up again, only this time using the blizzard as an opportunity to treat the sex as a partial biological experiment.
Max Nichols is the son of Mike Nichols, so there’s little surprise that the son of the director who brought us Carnal Knowledge and Closer is willing to explore sexuality frankly. The great pleasure of Two Night Stand is the build-up to the second time Megan and Alec have sex. They both agree to accept and receive criticism openly, and what follows is R-rated dialogue that’s specific, open, and (mostly) humor-free. They discuss the how their bodies fit, and how to achieve the best turn-on. They discuss mutual orgasm, and there is no broad punch-line to be found. The blizzard conceit is a smart way to make this conversation possible, and I suspect the film in turn will be a catalyst for younger couples who are unsure how to communicate their preferences. The sex scenes avoid nudity (there are lots of discreetly-placed bed sheets), although the dialogue strikes an uncommon balance between candor and eroticism.
Before and after the second hook-up, Hammer’s screenplay is a test of patience. Alec and Megan go through the typical push/pulls of romantic comedy, leading toward a connection, but what’s unusual about these moments is how they’re fueled by Megan’s need to use the bathroom. It’s surprising that nature’s proverbial call does not lead to at least one scatological joke, yet Hammer’s script dutifully avoids bathroom humor even when he creates a context where it’s downright necessary. Then there is a scene where the pair get high, and again Hammer eschews the same transparency that defines the build-up toward sex. It’s as if Hammer has a specific agenda, and his tunnel vision dwarfs any desire for multi-faceted character development. By the time the third acts revolves around the creepiest plot machination possible, it’s clear Hammer and Nichols see Megan and Alec as avatars of sex talk, not fully-fledged characters.
Ever since The Spectacular Now, I’ve been enamored – yes, I said enamored – with Miles Teller. He has a sleepy charm, and his characters are likable without the suggestion that he tries too hard. He plays Alec as a funny guy who believes he’s a great catch, and has the patience for Megan to come around. Tipton tries her best, but her performance lacks the naturalism of Teller’s. Her delivery is clunky and mannered, as if she’s embarrassed by what Nichols forces her to say. Megan is meant to be naïve and neurotic, a sexually-active twenty something plagued by indecision, yet Tipton plays her like she’s an adolescent. She and Teller never quite develop chemistry, to my chagrin, simply because she cannot match his chops. During the protracted sex talk, it’s as if Nichols cuts away from Tipton because he’s afraid she’ll burst into immature giggles.
Two Night Stand suggests a rift of experience between Alec and Megan. He simply cannot believe that he’s her first casual hook-up, and she’s offended by the implication that she’s a slut. The implication of this impasse is that Alec has slept around more, whereas Megan is the more pure of the two (we never learn how old Alec is meant to be). Hammer abandons this key difference during the frank sex conversation: Megan acknowledges that she’s only dated and slept with one person, yet she discusses her sexual likes/dislikes like a seasoned pro. Men – especially young men – only have a few weapons in the proverbial arsenal, so it’s hard to believe her only boyfriend could lead her to articulate her preferences so clearly. This is a minor misstep in Two Night Stand, which could have been better if it weren’t for some major missteps. But for ten glorious minutes or so, there’s an open discussion of sex that reminds us that, yes, hooking up is about more than calisthenics with our genitals.