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Talking frankly about sex (without becoming lewd or lascivious) is among the most difficult tasks we as a society face, and arguably our failure to do so in a mature and productive manner is responsible for an unconscionable percentage of the world’s problems. And yet we continue to just not do it. Embarrassment and cultural taboos are the chief reasons, but a significant (if rarely discussed) cause has to be that we’re so bad at it. Not for nothing is there an award given annually for the worst description of sex in literature. 

Even in this rarefied air, the awkwardness and supreme un-coolness of the sex ed film is beyond calculation. And one such representative of this genre that has garnered cult recognition is a product of the Boston Family Planning Project that presumably ended up in schools across America at the start of the 80s and accomplished the goal of making sex an even less desirable topic of conversation. “Am I Normal?” lingers in the imagination four decades later because it is so strangely goofy at presenting the subject of sexuality in the adolescent male. We’re already primed to laugh at that which unsettles or disturbs us, like a boggart in the cupboard, so directors Debra Franco and David Shepard make the understandable decision to leaven the awkward nature of the topic with humor. Unfortunately, the nature of the silliness is so over-the-top that it rarely works as humor and barely works as education.

To its credit, the film recognizes its challenges, especially when it comes to teenagers. Having been caught with an untimely physical reaction to an invitation from Susie (Jennifer Adelson) to go to the movies, our protagonist Jimmy (Joel Doolin) and his wrestling champion-sized belt buckle wander around town looking for sex advice like the bird in “Are You My Mother?” He asks anyone and everyone for information about these strange new physical and emotional sensations, and his advisors are a motley crew, including his best pal who sits in the school locker room reading a book entitled Great Moments in Sex, a zookeeper who admits to seeing all kinds of penises in his job (“Animal penises!” he quickly clarifies), and his own father, who compares the private parts of men and women to a baseball bat and a catcher’s mitt. (No points for guessing which is which.)  

The information imparted is benign and actually kind of helpful. (Worth noting that Jimmy gets something closer to straight answers when he turns to authority figures who dispense knowledge, such as a librarian or the school nurse. Also interesting that they’re both women.) But the delivery of each nugget carries with it the blunt force of discomfort and the hidden dagger of silliness. Consider: after a lengthy monologue excoriating his pals for their refusal to be helpful or make inquiries themselves, Jimmy is met with an ovation from the zoo’s visitors, who have apparently gathered to hear his impassioned speech. The fact that this isn’t the peak of Jimmy’s embarrassment is a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. Franco and Shepard want to make it okay, even cool, to talk about sex. But it’s almost never going to be cool, especially not in this format. In trying to have it both ways, “Am I Normal?” struggles to succeed at either.

A different take on intimacy is provided by Christos Massalas’ light-hearted montage “Flowers and Bottoms” (available here, mildly NSFW for dorsal nudity.) A five-minute salute to truth in advertising, we watch as someone else watches a supercut of posteriors, some nude, some clad in tight clothing, but all accompanied by a variety of flora, usually in close proximity to the gluteal cleft. It’s possible that the various blooms should take on a phallic quality, but the whole thing is so sweet and genteel, it honestly feels more like the flowers are photobombing what would otherwise be a carousel of behinds. 

It plays like a riff on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s examination of limbs, “Up Your Legs Forever” (or even more like The Rutles’ parody “A Thousand Feet of Film”), but Massalas’ framing device lends a wonderful charm to the film. A voiceover reveals that the person is watching the movie by invitation, at the suggestion of someone who hopes they will like it. It’s akin to the mixtapes people used to gave to special someones to say everything they themselves could not, except instead of a melange of Gene Loves Jezebel and Dead Can Dance tracks, here the recipient gets pictures of butts. We don’t know what they ultimately think, but the benefactor is hopeful. If nothing else, we wisely recognize that the less he says, the better. 

That framing device gives “Flowers and Bottoms” a level of grace. Without the viewer, it would just be a kinky Pinterest board. But that crucial element recognizes how ridiculous we often sound when trying to talk about sex. Unlike the well-intentioned educational film, “Flowers” skips words and let the emotions speak for themselves. Not great for feeding the brain, but unexpectedly in touch with the soul.


“Am I Normal?”: “…most notable for its unintended hilarity… The moment when Jimmy talks to the zookeeper is the strangest moment of accidental, awkward comedy in this short film (it’s also a whole lotta creepy!), with dialogue that must be heard to be believed.” – Bart Bealmear, Dangerous Minds

“Flowers and Bottoms”: “I suspect the film Massalas really wanted to make was simply the flowers and bottoms, but he got scared that it would seem too weird, that someone might really think he had a fetish for flowery butts, so he needed the ironic distancing device to turn the whole thing into a comment on contemporary mores and the use of social media.” – David Finkelstein, Film International

(“Am I Normal? A Film About Male Puberty” was nominated for review by Nathan Reynolds, who dubbed it “midnight-y.” “Flowers and Bottoms” was nominated for review by Luc Peterson, who called it “pretty weird short film about butts, and flowers.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)


  1. And weirdly enough (but hardly surprising), Guy Maddin managed to cover both these topics in about 5 min in the ‘final derriere’ segment of The Forbidden Room, and it has a killer soundtrack.

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