The Late Bloomer (2016)


The Late Bloomer is about a man who belatedly experiences puberty, like at twenty-seven, and sounds like a man-child sex comedy the Judd Apatow crew would dream up. But the movie is based in part on the life of Ken Baker, who discovered in his late twenties that a benign tumor on his pituitary gland had arrested his sexual development. The movie takes advantage of what happened after it was removed and all his hormones came rushing in with the fury of a frustrated thirteen year old.

I like that this story broaches questions about the intersection between sexuality, gender, and adulthood, and how sexuality in particular shapes our perceptions of these. Peter (Johnny Simmons) is a sex therapist and author who because of his condition practices blissful abstinence and counsels others to similarly rein in their impulses. Unaware that a tumor is the reason for his suppressed urges, he finds his lifestyle easy to adapt to and isn’t given in to displays of virile dominance required by the testosterone-charged world his friends inhabit. Because of this ability to disconnect, however, he wrestles with his place in society and finds himself questioning his identity as a straight adult male.

Had the movie explored some of these ideas with any depth or seriousness, it might have been the smart comedy we need to start a conversation about sex and sexuality. Instead, the film uses the opportunity for easy and cheap laughs about so-called typical male behavior. After the tumor is removed, Peter suddenly experiences the same physical and mental changes as a teenage boy. There are jokes aplenty about masturbation, mood swings, and male insensitivity. It also turns out a wave of testosterone will make you really good at basketball.

There is humor to be mined from that situation for sure, but the film is preoccupied with finding ways to make a grown man act like a kid. The script reduces the conflict by literally turning Peter into a man-child, a situation made worse by the lack of responsible adults. His parents (J. K. Simmons and a loopy Maria Bello), especially his father, don’t seem to care about anything except his sexual awakening and only fully embrace him after his surgery. His best friends (Beck Bennett and an admittedly very dry, funny Kumail Nanjiani) are also proper dudes in that they make bad sex puns and hire a stripper to help hurry along Peter’s self-discovery.

The only person who balances out these adolescent male impulses and who doesn’t condescend to him is his neighbor, Michelle (Brittany Snow). Their close friendship changes though when Peter does, and he has to find a way to get back in her good graces. There’s a rushed attempt to save this picture and to get in a final word about sex as something positive for relationships, which seems self-evident, but the film doesn’t deserve an emotional or enlightened ending after degenerating into common high school locker room.

Released: 2016
Prod: Heidi Jo Markel, Raphael Kryszek, Jesse Israel
Dir: Kevin Pollak
Writer: Gary Rosen, Joe Nussbaum, Paul A. Kaplan, Mark Torgove, Kyle Cooper, Austyn Jeffs
Cast: Johnny Simmons, Brittany Snow, Kumail Nanjiani, Beck Bennett, Jane Lynch, J. K. Simmons, Maria Bello, Paul Wesley
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016