Haley Joel Osment is not the endearing little boy who saw dead people in “The Sixth Sense” anymore. In “Sex Ed,” a raunchy romantic comedy opening Friday, he is a budding teacher who improbably becomes the health sciences (read: sex education) teacher for a class of middle school students that is just becoming sexually aware.
Osment’s Edward Cole is a cross between Matthew Broderick’s teacher character from “Election” and Steve Carell’s sexually inexperienced retail store stocker in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
“I’m 23 and I feel like I’m 18,” Mr. Cole says to his best friend, referring to his stunted social and sexual life. “I feel like I’m waiting for life to start for me.”
The raunch in the low-budget “Sex Ed” mostly involves Mr. Cole’s adult friends, including his sassy landlady, though the middle schoolers in his racially diverse Tampa school have no shortage of bold curiosity about sex. (Warning: the trailer below is probably approaching the R-rated level.)
No one should view the “Sex Ed” with an expectation of policy implications for education. But there is at least one message amid the raunch: Students need good sex ed instruction in school, because if they don’t get it there, they’ll turn to the Internet and their friends. I wouldn’t think that is very controversial in the United States anymore, though I’m sure classroom exercises such as learning how to use a condom by putting one on a banana is still objectionable in some places. (And there is actually some solid sex ed instruction sprinkled throughout the movie; as one of Cole’s friends says, being a virgin doesn’t mean you can’t be a good sex ed teacher.)
A parent (Chris Williams) of one of the student’s in Cole’s class is a minister who objects to the sex ed curriculum, which, by the way, the first-year teacher has come up with on his own without any troublesome meddling by the fellow teachers, the principal, or district curriculum specialists. The minister comes off at first like he has moved to Tampa from the small-town Utah of “Footloose,” but his attitudes will show slightly more progressive strands as time goes on.
The movie has some fun with the idea that Cole gets his classroom job through “America’s Teaching Corps.” I wonder what that is supposed to be? Matt Walsh (“Veep”) is Cole’s supervisor, though it’s never clear if he’s with the school district or the private teacher organization.
The movie is ultimately about Cole’s own attempts at sex and/or romance, with several surprises in store. At least he’s not doing what the teacher in next week’s Hollywood treatment of education is. In “Miss Meadows,” opening Nov. 14, the title character (Katie Holmes) starts teaching in a new town every year because she is secretly a gun-toting vigilante. (What is Randi Weingarten going to make of these portrayals of American teaching?)
“Sex Ed”'s title sequence offers a brief sampling of those school sex ed films of the 1950s and 60s. When I was looking for the trailer to the Hollywood film, I came across a documentary called “SEX(ED) The Movie,” a more serious look at sex education in schools from the perspective of those educational films. It opens in New York City on Nov. 14.
I haven’t seen the documentary yet, but as the old movie critic’s cliche goes, if you can only see one movie about sex education this year—choose carefullly.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.