At some level, every film by Catherine Breillat is about dominant/submissive dynamics in the relations between men and women. In Sex Is Comedy, we get to see these power plays in theme-and-variations, the dominant role reversing and reversing again, sometimes line-by-line. All but a few scenes are between one man and one woman. It is also a brilliant behind-the-scenes look at filming an act of lovemaking, and the absurd amount of effort it takes to film a spontaneous-looking scene. Think of Truffaut's Day for Night plus a prosthetic penis.
Consider these moments: the male star refuses to take off his socks for the love scene; Jeanne, the female director, gets drunk and mischievously confesses her methods of manipulating actors to the A.D.; the co-star "lovers" can't stand each other--their initial attempts at kissing are described by the director as looking "like a corpse"; waiting for the lighting crew, the male lead paces nervously, his prosthetic erection bobbing up and down, exposed through the slit in his bathrobe. Sound like situation comedy? Well, it is and it isn't. It sets up the situations for comedy, then plays them for drama. This is what makes this often frustrating director one of the greatest living artists of the motion picture.
If you laugh, it is the laughter to relieve dramatic tension. The only scenes truly played for laughs are the attempts to film lovemaking in the movie-within-the-movie. And they are utterly hilarious. Along the way, serious questions are posed, if not answered. Does getting an actor to show an intimate part of himself take away part of his soul? Is the director of such scenes any better than a sort of voyeuristic Caligula, orchestrating something indecent for his or her pleasure?
And what about those few scenes where members of the same sex play off each other? In Sex Is Comedy, all the scenes of women with women are conspiratorial, and all the scenes of men with men show them as purveyors of vulgarity. If Brief Crossing didn't already show us that Breillat does not even pretend to be impartial, look at the final shot of Sex Is Comedy: a two-shot of director and actress locked in tearful embrace. I, personally, don't mind the bias, because it is in the foreground. No matter how I may disagree with Breillat's characterizations, there is never any attempt to cloak them as anything other than what they are. I completely respect that.