The Sex Lives of College Girls review – Emma Stone and Emma Watson fetch epic romance

American author Audrey Niffenegger’s husband is involved in the next film from the ambitiously genre-jumping filmmaker, with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling previously lined up

“You know, in all the interesting aspects of that life, pretty close. But it doesn’t always feel like a life.” Which, in some sense, is how campus tours guide and consultant CeCe Drake views her own “life” when her friends ask about her boyfriend’s introduction to first love and the process that ended a fling with a cross-dressing aspiring musician.

In The Sex Lives of College Girls, the fourth film from well-known minimalist director Lone Scherfig (An Education, Far From the Madding Crowd), Drake is something of a recurring character. It’s been three years since she was in college. Her friends Jenn (Emma Stone) and Abbie (Emma Watson) are now at university. They’re well-off and apparently happy, which for CeCe seems like a disappointment after three years of comfortingly cheerful alma mater.

All seems well in the world, until Jenn suddenly spots Abbie in an important meeting in the library, unexpectedly leaning in to chat with an attractive stranger – a scientist (Mark Ruffalo). The stranger is very much a scientist. The chemistry is awkward, almost amateurish.

He’s a scientist because he’s worked out a formula that turns almost anyone into a cipher for research into male and female patterns of sexual desire. CeCe, though, is intrigued. As the film progresses, Jenn, her friend played by the formidable Phoebe Fox, persuades CeCe to join the lab for one year to discover just what the heck all this may be doing to our beloved Homo sapiens.

How will it play with all you heterosexual men? From the blithe sci-fi vagueness of the premise, the movie sometimes bores into each aspect of research without dramatising what the details really mean. You might enjoy it if you appreciate an engaging heroine – an outwardly successful career woman – with a beehive hairdo, but that’s as far as either appeal goes. Emma Stone’s instinctive charm and two-time Academy Award-winning acting skills – combined with Emma Watson’s still-starry-eyed presence – could make this a more engaging tale were it less derivative.

Reluctantly engaging in its own genreish fashion, The Sex Lives of College Girls nevertheless makes the right kind of films that tell the stories that need telling – stories that are extraordinary yet, however narrow in their attention span, could be so much more.

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