Over a decade ago, writer Ayn Carrillo-Gailey embarked on a quest to prove an ex-boyfriend wrong. She rolled out a list of lusty to-dos (go to a sex store, host a sex toy party, learn how to give great oral sex) to show that she was not, as he had pronounced her to be, “pornphobic.” The result was the amusing (and enlightening) memoir “Pornology,” which has now spawned its own sanitized, if sweet rom-com movie adaptation. It’s a cute idea for a movie (well, cute enough to inspire plenty just like it, from “The To Do List” to “Sex Drive”), the kind that follows a charming lead as they stumble their way into physical pleasure and other forms of personal enlightenment.
Filmmaking brothers Chris and Nick Riedell might not be breaking any new ground with their “A Nice Girl Like You,” but the duo at least had the foresight to cast Lucy Hale as Carrillo-Gailey’s movie stand-in, a straight-laced classical violinist who isn’t so much afraid of sex as she is unsure of how to make it work for her. Just like in Carrillo-Gailey’s book (adapted here by screenwriter Andrea Marcellus in her feature debut), Lucy’s life is upended by the revelation that her somewhat skeezy boyfriend (Stephen Friedrich) thinks that Lucy’s disdain for porn is actually indicative of her tense relationship with sex as a whole.
Suddenly single, Lucy turns to the one thing that has ever given her a sense of control: a to-do list. Just like the real events that inspired “A Nice Girl Like You,” the story follows Lucy as she attempts to tick off a litany of sexy items, all in hopes of unlocking her own inner sex goddess. While Carrillo-Gailey’s book was flinty and fresh, “A Nice Girl Like You” is more predictable than wild, more staid than sexy, but at least Hale injects some refreshing fun into the outing.
Bolstered by an intermittently funny voiceover from Hale (acting as her own nervous inner monologue) and a slew of well-rounded supporting turns from Mindy Cohn, Jackie Cruz, and Adhir Kalyan, the film swiftly moves through a series of expected tropes. There’s the inevitable visit to a sex toy shop, complete with wacky misuse of at least one product and a longform gag that sees a set of newly purchased Ben Wa balls popping out of Lucy’s lady bits at an inopportune time. There’s a shame-filled interaction with a sex therapist and her sidekick psychic, who happily humiliate Lucy in front of scads of strangers. Hell, there’s even a sequence in which Lucy shows off her fiddlin’ skills at a strangely overlit Las Vegas bar, all the better to show her coming out of her shell in ways that don’t involve the bedroom.
And, of course, there’s a new love interest. While nothing about the film’s plotting surprises — this is a feature that looks and moves just like a high-caliber Lifetime film, with a generous dose of sex toy-based subplots and a woeful affection for deeply cheesy dream sequences — that doesn’t mean there isn’t pleasure to be found in Lucy’s burgeoning romance with Grant (Leonidas Gulaptis). The pair literally meet while Lucy is attempting a simple to-do list item (it involves screaming the word “cock!,” and it happens very early in the film), and while that might hint at more salacious bits to come, “A Nice Girl Like You” is more concerned with turning their romance into a decidedly PG affair.
Still, the film’s mostly sex-positive approach to Lucy’s predicament — beyond, of course, that soul-crushing run-in with the therapist and psychic, a retrograde sequence that feels terribly dated — is refreshing enough, even if “A Nice Girl Like You” is never interested in getting down and dirty, despite its literally porn-centric concept. Funnily enough, Hale is next set to star in another big screen adaptation of a seriously spicy romance, Sally Thorne’s bestselling “The Hating Game,” and anyone who doubts she’s the right fit for its sexy, sweet material should look no further than her work here to see she’s capable of great romantic work, with some naughty heat.
Vertical Entertainment will release “A Nice Girl Like You” on VOD on Friday, July 17.