Whenever a film offers up the customary Don Juan role it is done without acknowledging the one basic fact that this character repels most men. Essentially these Casanovas come in one of two forms: the debauched hedonist who froths at the first whiff of estrogen and generally behaves like a gibbon in lingerie’ shop after it has been maced with pheromones; or it is the pretty boy narcissist who has all the right tools at his disposal to draw flocks of nubile lasses.
“Giving it Up” serves up the latter example, and for as many times as the story of a gifted lothario has been used as a movie subject Hollywood has yet to pick up on one detail—men hate these son’s of bitches. While a great number of males do indeed hope to achieve this level of success they do not want to watch some other lunk with the skills of attracting gorgeous women. They do want to toss him down a flight of stairs and garrote him with his Hugo Boss tie. (I’ll allow my own prejudice may taint this assessment.)
In this film we tag along in the life of Ralph Gagante, a hot-shot ad exec who is a charmed creature. He is highly successful, has a GQ wardrobe, drives a Ferrari, and has the best looking gals of Manhattan looking his way. Ralph however has reservations with his life, and this manages to further alienate him from the audience. Despite a blessed life he wants more, he wants to be in love. Sorry, but Check Please! I hardly enjoy watching someone who has almost everything as they say that it is not enough.
A film of this nature could be salvageable with strong material, but with the exception of the opening scene there is little in the form of humor or originality. In that scene Ralph awakens beside a faceless and nude woman, and they both stir to life. During their sunrise coitus they kiss and Ralph’s morning breath causes her to lunge for the bathroom to wretch in the sink. Rather than suffering the shame of his halitosis inducing reverse peristalsis he becomes inspired, using the episode to create a new slogan for Listerine.
From there however writer/director plods along with a story that is rote to the extent that you can see furrows in the script. Ralph has his blazing career threatened by the introduction of Elizabeth, the newcomer to the agency, played by Amy Redford. Right away she bristles at the fact that sex is used to sell all of the products for their clients, including condoms, and Ralph bristles at her objections because they are all his ideas. Elizabeth is also repulsed by Ralph’s womanizing tendencies, but spurning him only makes her more desirable in his pants—I mean eyes.
Predictably Elizabeth cannot help but fall for Ralph, against her better judgment. This happens because she notices qualities of the pig that others are not privy to seeing, like the way he gets along with children, or how he helps out a cash-strapped client. Being a craven male myself I could interpret these poses as nothing more than his attempt at getting her onto the box-spring, but Elizabeth being an intelligent woman who does not question these actions as a possible ruse only makes her a sad character.
Kublan occasionally breaks up the predictable passages by injecting scenes that have no bearing on the rest of the plot, such as Ralph seeing a psychiatrist for his possible sex addiction. (James Toback plays the therapist, which is notable because he wrote and directed a forbear to this film, “The Pickup Artist”. He was also the subject of a Spy Magazine article that featured numerous women who reported Toback repeatedly tried to use the lure of film roles to pickup dates on the street.) Ralph uses the support group to hit on the lone woman who was there for help. Another scene has Ralph sitting in a gay coffee house for no apparent reason other than to take a lesbian home and “turn” her. The worst moment was Ralph working at his desk and struggling with a campaign for jeans. First he sniffs the crotch of a nearby pair of pants and then he strips so he can pleasure himself with a pencil drawing of a topless woman.
After an hour of screen time we begin to get around to the abstinence premise that is alluded by the title. Ralph’s desire for Elizabeth is enough for him to decide to forgo sex entirely, but for some reason he also feels he needs to sell his beloved Ferrari. Just as in the like-themed 40 Days and 40 Nights (which this film actually predates) once Ralph shuns women he cannot turn a corner without one catching his eye or throwing herself at him. And just as he has built up his resolve touted star Ali Larter finally shows up as an irresistible super-model.
By this time you want Ralph to decide on something in the hopes that it will bring up the credits, and the decision is of little mystery given that this is a romantic-comedy. Since this is a mostly female genre I have to ask why there was so much masculine tinged wit, i.e. toilet humor. On the director’s commentary Kublan betrays his lack of understanding here. During the opening scene he mentioned that he edited out a shot of Ralph’s tumescence showing beneath the sheets because he “thought the pup-tent was over the top.” He did however leave in the scenes with a naked woman vomiting in a sink, Ralph engaging in self-abuse behind his desk and in front of his boss, and a lesbian forcing Ralph between her legs to earn his “red wings”. Not exactly the stuff that makes for romantic dreams.
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