'How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town': Slamdance Review

Courtesy of Slamdance Film Festival
Underwhelming, despite a racy setup.

A Canadian comedy that tries to shed its provincial shell by getting a little wild and crazy.

Writer-director Jeremy LaLonde’s last feature was entitled Sex After Kids, so perhaps How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town represents a logical extension of that conflicted premise. In any case, some semi-provocative situations and a range of comely castmembers who aren’t shy about getting naked may make this ensemble outing an attractive pickup for cable and VOD outlets.

The film begins with noted sex columnist Cassie Cranston (Jewel Staite) feeling secretly panicked over her new contract to write a juicy nonfiction book in the vein of the libidinous scenarios she’s previously published in numerous magazine articles. The problem is, she made them all up, so elaborating on a book-length version of her nonexistent sex life seems utterly impossible, despite the minor detail that she’s already accepted, and spent, her advance on the project. That dilemma quickly recedes however, when she learns about the death of her mother, a famous YA author who never approved of Cassie’s professional calling, or anything about Cassie, really.

Forced to reluctantly return to the small town of Beaver’s Ridge that she fled years ago, Cassie comes face-to-face with her former high school boyfriend Adam (Ennis Esmer), who’s now an estate attorney administering her mother’s will, which, it turns out, leaves nothing whatsoever to Cassie. That slight is quickly compounded by the hostile attitudes of her old classmates, now the town’s 30-something moral arbiters themselves, including former nemesis Heather (Lauren Lee Smith) and self-styled studmaster Bruce (Mark O’ Brien), who’s actually about to be divorced by his edgy but increasingly annoyed wife Alice (Katharine Isabelle). Old resentments quickly resurface, directed at Cassie’s scathing public accounts concerning her hometown residents’ prudish attitudes, sparking a minor revelation: If Cassie can persuade her acquaintances to engage in an orgy to prove their open-mindedness, she’ll have all the fodder she needs for a rip-roaring book.

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So she makes a proposal, agreeing to provide her expertise for a half-dozen town residents if they’re willing to prove that they’re not as provincial as she’s claimed. Heather accepts the challenge to recruit participants, driven by a newly urgent personal agenda. Adam agrees because he’s still carrying a torch for Cassie, hoping they’ll get a chance to hook up, although she’s already indicated she won’t be directly participating in the activities. For Bruce, group sex seems like a potential stealth strategy to re-approach Alice, who’s only joining in to support Cassie. Various other locals, both qualified and barely functional, agree to join in and a plan is set in motion for them all to collectively lose their org-inity.  

If the film’s setup weren’t at least semi-inspired, the denouement wouldn’t be seem so lackluster, but LaLonde’s opinions about sexual behavior turn out to be almost as milquetoast as the local yokels he’s lampooning. A few marginally risque spouse-swapping situations, plenty of partial nudity and a bit of gender-preference confusion add up to an underwhelming set of options for a sex comedy.

To their credit, the cast appears to be enthusiastically committed to the film’s central premise regardless, even if the ensemble format doesn’t provide much opportunity for individual performances to stand out. Even for Staite, whose Cassie role should by rights be a good deal sassier than the material that LaLonde has scripted, there’s not much opportunity to distinguish herself.

The production’s technical credits rarely exceed expectations, but suffice for a modestly budgeted feature.

Production company: Neophyte Productions
Cast: Jewel Staite, Ennis Esmer, Lauren Lee Smith, Katharine Isabelle, Mark O’ Brien, Jonas Chernick, Tommie-Amber Pirie, James McGowan
Director-writer: Jeremy LaLonde
Producers: Jordan Walker, Chris Bennett
Executive producers: Avi Federgreen, Ryan Goldhar, Jeremy LaLonde, Jewel Staite, Ennis Esmer
Director of photography: D. Gregor Hagey
Production designer: Danielle Sahota
Costume designer: Marissa Schwartz
Editor: Jeremy LaLonde
Music: Jeff Toyne
Venue: Slamdance Film Festival (Beyond)
Sales: Double Dutch International

Not rated, 101 minutes

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