Doin’ It (2024)


Doin’ It Review

In a comedy that goes too far and still falls short in the laugh department, a woman who knows nothing about the birds and the bees develops an X-rated curriculum to teach high school sex positivity.

Some film festivals take themselves entirely too seriously. Not South by Southwest, the Austin-based multidisciplinary mega-event where amped-up crowds welcome comedies with open arms the raunchier the better. This year, one logline stood out as especially promising: “A 30-year-old Indian American virgin gets a job teaching high school Sex Ed.” Alas, “Doin’ It” doesn’t cut it (it’s basically 2014 Haley Joel Osment comedy “Sex Ed” with a cultural spin). The concept is funny, but the execution feels forced, in part because the substitute in question (played by Lilly Singh) is supposed to be following an abstinence-based curriculum. In theory, her deep-seated celibacy should make her perfect for the job.

The movie aims to combat the shame around all aspects of human sexuality, which seems like an admirable but inevitably controversial goal. But “Doin’ It” goes too far straight out of the gate, opening with an embarrassment no teenager can live down: A pubescent version of Singh’s character, Maya (played by Celine Joseph), waits nervously backstage at the school dance show, when her dance partner chooses this (of all times) to compare private parts. His pants drop, then the curtain does, exposing both of them to the whole school.

There in the audience, looking horrified, sit her conservative mother (Sonia Dhillon Tully) and Nani (Usha Uppal). But that’s not all, and while it’s inappropriate (as opposed to prudish) to describe her X-rated humiliation in detail, suffice to say the incident is so messy, the camera lens needs to be cleaned. Meant to be hilarious, the indignity is mostly just gross, closer to a sex crime than a punchline. The incident makes a legend of the boy (later played by Utkarsh Ambudkar), while young Maya is packed up and shipped off to India, where no one bothers to give her “the talk” about the birds and the bees.

Flash forward 15 or so years, and Maya returns to the U.S., full of ambition, if not necessarily life experience. The now-tech-savvy entrepreneur has an idea for an app aimed at teens, and in order to perfect it, she decides to work as a substitute teacher at Proudamore High School you know, the way most people with products aimed at teenagers get to know their demo. Looking to fulfill her diversity quota, the principal (Ana Gasteyer) hires Maya on the spot, assigning her to teach sex ed. They would have been better off employing Barbara (Stephanie Beatriz), a randy divorcée who works in the cafeteria and by far the film’s funniest cast member (though Sabrina Jalees, who plays lesbian best friend Jess, gets laughs too).

Maybe Maya’s a virgin, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t qualified for the job (she’s not sleeping with her students or scaring them about STDs). In fact, the joke of “Doin’ It” isn’t that Maya winds up parroting her naive notions to a class full of people who have more experience with sex than she does. Surprisingly, this comedy takes a less intuitive route.

Maya wants to be the dopest sex ed teacher ever and lose her virginity in the process you know, bring some real-world knowledge to these hormone-addled kids. The class is what you’d expect, the all-talk jock (Christian Martyn), the abstinence advocate (Jessica Clement), the identity-confused cool girl (Ashley Singh).

When those suggested lesson plans don’t go over well, Maya steps in with some unconventional wisdom (and unorthodox original ideas). She brings out a “gender elephant” model (which introduces gender socialization concepts that wouldn’t fly in Florida). She shows them explicit videos about the female orgasm. She gives them self-love tasks as homework. And she pulls Abbey Ho (Sydney Topliffe) aside after school to talk about when it’s right to have sex. The school board’s answer not until marriage. Which is unrealistic but so is everything about Maya’s approach to sex ed, starting with the fact that she thinks she can get away with any of this stuff. As for Singh, she’s at her funniest when speaking directly to us, but awkward-acting when in character, exaggerating emotions Maya has supposedly learned to hide.

Good comedies are rooted in truth but also have an element of surprise; here, though, it seems like the only surprise was how far Singh and director Sara Zandieh were willing go. There are jokes that must have seemed promising on paper (like when Maya’s mom yells “Come!” off-camera while her daughter is playing with a vibrator), and a few that actually land (like what her mom does when she finds the device). At school, Maya has a crush on the coach (Trevor Salter), whose function is to be well adjusted and affirmational especially compared with a racist rival teacher (Mary Holland) who delights in publicly humiliating Maya.

“Doin’ It” wants to preach sex positivity but feels stuck in the same immature, shock-comedy rut as “American Pie” or early Farrelly brothers movies. At one point, Maya compliments the class for not teasing Abbey about her last name, Ho. That scene neatly sums up the central paradox of the movie: Its sense of humor is stuck in junior high, while its agenda feels collegiate. Meanwhile, jokes about the character’s repressive Indian-American upbringing are recycled from countless other movies. Every once in a while, a raunchy sex comedy comes along that teaches jaded audiences a thing or two (John Waters typically manages it; so did Pamela Adlon’s SXSW-launched “Babes”). “Doin’ It” amounts to a long list of what not to do.

Watch Doin’ It For Free On Gomovies.

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