A few years back, Academy Award nominated documentarian Nanette Burstein swooped into the Hoosier state to follow a group of teenagers around at a northern Indiana high school. The resulting documentary, American Teen, was an engaging and immersive documentary but the film had its naysayers who felt like there were parts of the film that felt rather staged.
While I was a fan of the film and even interviewed the cast, the truth is I had to kind of agree.
The same problem plagues Shannon Alexander's engaging documentary Sex, Love, Misery: New New York, a feature doc that explores the candid thoughts and encounters of a small group of single New Yorkers looking to mingle or marry, from initial texts to hook ups and beyond.
At a mere 67 minutes in running time, Sex, Love, Misery introduces us to our participants quickly yet we get a strong sense of who they are. We kind of get a sense of what they're looking for, though to be honest some of these folks aren't exactly sure themselves.
Aisha is the fairly clear focus of the film, a good thing since she's by far the most charismatic and easily the most comfortable being herself on film. That sense of staginess is an issue throughout much of the film, though with Aisha there's a much stronger naturalness that makes the film that much more immersive.
Sex, Love, Misery is obviously set in the pandemic era New York and the film isn't afraid to show these times.
Intended as a light-hearted and even comedic doc, Sex, Love, Misery benefits from Alexander's lighter directorial touch in both interviewing and following these personalities. She captures folks like Frenchman Emile Filippi, Troy Weekes, and Izzie Zuniga at their most open and in some incredibly vulnerable times. While this isn't a film that ever dazzles, it does elicit such a sense of empathy that you can't help but like these people even when you wonder if they actually like themselves.
I enjoyed Sex, Love, Misery, though I can't deny that buy the time the closing credits were rolling I was more than satisfied with my time with these couples and potential couples. They were fun getting to know, but I'll also admit I never felt connected with a single person in the film. That hinders the film from having a real lasting impact, at least for me. Still, this is an admirable effort and an entertaining, engaging documentary done quite well by Shannon Alexander. Alexander is an obviously talented filmmaker and it'll be fun to watch future projects.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic