The tagline on the poster for the short film Doll It Up is “A story of sex, lies, and silicone.” That is an amusing little barb that concisely pins down the film’s themes. It is also the sole sum of any amusement or creativity to be found anywhere in this tepid affair.
The 7-minute “comedic drama” begins as Gunther (Timothy J. Cox) is celebrating his third anniversary with his wife. His wife is an inflatable sex doll, and an argument ensues between the two over her looks. To fix this, Gunther buys a newer model, one whose looks are more realistic. The mistress causes the wife to run away (read- Gunther throws her in the trash). When Gunther gets home from work one day, he discovers his mistress with someone else. Now, he sets off to find his plastic wife and make amends.
It is entirely possible to make an insightful comedy with real gravitas that revolves around sex toys. One of the main characters of the underrated Mumford made his fortune selling such wares. The entirety of Lars And The Real Girl is heartbreaking brilliance predicated on the idea of a sex doll being treated as an ordinary human being. Doll It Up, written and directed by Yalan Hu, is too short for any dramatic heft to feel genuine, and it is too bland to be comical.
“…wife is an inflatable sex doll, and an argument ensues between the two over her looks. To fix this, Gunther buys a newer model…”
Since movies are a visual medium, bland visuals will make for a dull viewing experience. That is precisely what happens with Doll It Up. Hu has no command of atmosphere or visual cues whatsoever. This extends to the basic, boring camera setups- every shot is medium, or medium close with no background action to enhance any of it. I have literally seen middle schoolers make movies with more inventive camera work. Middle schoolers!
For his part as Gunther, Cox proves the movie’s saving grace. His portrayal of the hapless and dull Gunther is quite affable. When he witnesses his mistress cheating on him, his shock and hurt are conveyed wonderfully through his expressive face. The seriousness with which he puts his wife in the trash, stating they both knew this couldn’t last, is amusing. But even he cannot save this movie.
See, besides the lackluster directing, the writing is also wanting. Gunther’s motivations, to begin with, don’t make sense. Simply stating he is tired of his wife is not enough reason for the audience. It would help if there was more at that start about the decline of the relationship. This would add weight to the drama and give the ending meaning. More importantly, though, is that it is not amusing. The only gag in the film- treating these sex dolls as being alive- is neither novel nor funny on its own. There are no jokes to speak, yet the movie hits the beats of a comedy. Since there is no dramatic tension, and there is no levity to be found, the audience is left with nothing to engage them.
Hu might be making a statement about how viewing women solely as objects of desire hurts everyone. That is a noble goal, aspirational even. But if that is the aim, Doll It Up falls flat. The story is told entirely from a male’s perspective with every single female being a silent sex doll. This makes it impossible to discern their wants or desires, much less give them anything resembling free will. Meaning that if everything is filtered through a male’s point of view, it cannot give voice to a different gender. So, if that is the intent, it is as muddled and confused as so much else here.
Doll It Up is not amusing, clever, smart, witty, dramatic, or very interesting. Its languid direction ensures that the poorly written lines remain as flat as possible. While the star, Timothy J. Cox, works his butt off to be a likable lead and succeeds, it is not enough to save the movie.