In the midst of the current pandemic-induced lockdown, there are almost certainly awkward romantic scenarios playing out all over the world. Couples who have never lived together before will be isolating together at the most stressful of times, and presumably more than one Tinder date has culminated in an unexpected period of isolation.

That level of awkwardness, though, pales in comparison to the exquisite cringe-comedy of writer-director Rachel Hirons’s A Guide to Second Date Sex. The film throws together the always reliable George MacKay — his leading man beauty hidden under some genuinely awful facial hair — and Welsh comic Alexandra Roach as a couple navigating their excruciatingly sober second date after a fun encounter in a bar. It’s fair to say that romance doesn’t get more toe-curling than this.

The warning signs are there early on, with MacKay’s Ryan and Roach’s Laura engaging in what can best be described as a meet-awkward at the bar. Ryan’s patter includes the assertion that he’s “not an incestuous paedophile” and Laura can’t shut up about a dead childhood rabbit who also happened to be called Ryan. When they meet a week or so later at Ryan’s flat — his deeply obnoxious roommate (Michael Socha) is, fortunately, out clubbing — the expectation of sex and the lack of wheel-greasing booze creates a nightmare of social faux pas.

A Guide to Second Date Sex

There’s a delightful anti-chemistry between MacKay and Roach that really makes this movie fly. Both show an impressive lack of vanity in channelling every stretched nerve of dating, amplified by the decidedly unromantic tone of the setting — a cramped shared house with a supernaturally odd third roommate (Mash Report stalwart Tom Bell) and no clean drinking glasses. When “what would Shakira do?” is your sexual mantra, chaos can’t be far away and, via some Peep Show-esque internal monologues, it duly arrives.

Hirons’s script is well-observed and sharp, whether it’s the multiple missteps of two characters who can only say and do the wrong thing or the way she sketches the minute details of this world, right down to the way every student-y shared house seems to have some weird, non-standard lock and door handle combo. There’s a sense that this particularly difficult date comes from some deep-seated personal trauma because there’s an authenticity to it that doesn’t permeate many romcoms.

When the movie sits back and allows MacKay and Roach to be funny together, it’s a quick-witted delight — albeit one that is often so awkward that it will send audience members behind the sofa to escape the cringe reflex for a few moments. Late in the day, there are some added plot wrinkles that muddy the water in a way the story didn’t need, but the focus eventually returns, rightly, to the central couple and their assorted anxious tics.

A Guide to Second Date Sex

Powered by two dynamite performances and an enjoyable roster of comedic cameos, A Guide to Second Date Sex is a none-more-British romcom that moves away from the bumbling Hugh Grant archetype for something more recognisable and real in the shape of MacKay and Roach’s likeable neurotics. It has charm to spare, if your nerves can last through the weapons-grade cringe of its toughest sequences. Watch out for the Pikachu porn. It’s a shocker.

Dir: Rachel Hirons

Scr: Rachel Hirons

Cast: George MacKay, Alexandra Roach, Michael Socha, Tom Bell, Emma Rigby, Kae Alexander

Prd: Maggie Monteith, Paul Raphael, David Wade

DOP: Paul MacKay

Music: Toydrum

Country: UK

Year: 2019

Run time: 81 mins

A Guide to Second Date Sex is available on VOD in the UK now.

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