WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
I watched the British movie "Public Sex" on the Sundance Channel last night. The US release really should have stuck with the UK title, "Dogging: A Love Story," because "Public Sex" is misleading. "Public Sex" does not focus on sex, rather it focuses on Dan, an unemployed journalist (HEYYY!) who wants to write an expose about "dogging"--the British practice of having sex in cars in a public space while others watch and sometimes participate.
Dan starts by simply researching dogging online, but soon his obnoxious room mate Rob brings Dan with him on a dogging excursion. Meanwhile, under the pseudonym "East of England Eight Inches," Dan strikes up a friendship with "Horny Geordie Lass," a person he meets in an online dogging forum. Horny Geordie turns out to be Laura, a pretty university student who explores the dogging scene to escape her overprotective father (though she never actually participates in the act herself).
Upon Dan's first trip to a parking lot with Rob and Rob's older girlfriend Sarah, Dan and Laura run into eachother without knowing that they've already met online under pseudonyms. The two of them awkwardly discuss dogging for a few minutes, and although Dan has a girlfriend, he invites Laura to meet again at a future dogging gathering. However, Dan ends up bringing his girlfriend Tanya to that gathering in order to "show her his research," but she is disgusted once she realizes what's going on. What follows is one of the funnier scenes in the movie, in which Tanya escapes Dan's car only to follow an older man into his trailer, where he and his wife serve her tea and explain that dogging saved their marriage (and ask if she'd like to see photos of their grandchildren while the wife is wearing a dildo, natch).
Tanya then decides to give dogging a try with Dan, much to his horror. Despite his curiosity, Dan is in actuality totally grossed out by the scene, and the act of performing public sex while other people jerk off (onto his car window, no less) makes him horribly uncomfortable. Tanya, on the other hand, likes it so much that she later tells him if he won't do it with her, she'll find someone who will.
The rest of the movie follows Dan and Laura meeting a few times more, usually at dogging events, until the film culminates at a huge dogging weekend in the countryside. By now, Dan and Tanya have broken up and Laura, after learning that Jim is East of England Eight Inches and catching him with his (now ex-) girlfriend, has dragged along Jim, a classmate who has a crush on her, to the weekend event. Jim, too, is not interested in dogging, so Laura ends up wandering off on her own. She's picked up by a large group of older men and the situation starts to turn dark until Dan shows up and takes her away, finally bringing the two together for good.
The best parts of the movie are the moments when people's true colors finally show. The awkward meetings between Dan and Laura; Rob crying and begging when Sarah indicates she prefers dogging to Rob; Tanya enjoying dogging while Rob halfheartedly fights it. The characters are truly what drive the film, not sex. Though there are plenty of prurient moments in the movie, including above-the-waist nudity and creepy sex scenes shot in night vision, those are nearly forgotten once you return to the main characters. However, I have to say that the love story itself is a bit convenient and cliche, so the dogging backdrop is what makes it different and interesting.
Despite the borderline weak story, I still really liked this film. There are lots of surprises and the characters all have depth. The story is sweet but still subtle, which presents a strong dichotomy against the stark and dirty dogging background.