Screen Media Films // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // February 16th, 2010
High hopes, high anxiety, high heels.
The 2009 comedy-drama Women in Trouble exists somewhere between the films of George Cukor and Russ Meyer. It's a melodramatic "women's picture" crossed with a sleazy exploitation sex comedy, and that strange alchemy works -- for the most part. It's the kind of movie that celebrates trash as much as melodrama; heartfelt outpourings of emotion as much as cleavage. It's silly in a self-aware way, but sincere enough to keep it from floating away as just an exercise -- a loving tribute to the vampiness and campiness of '60s and '70s trash cinema. Not that that would be such a bad thing.
Women in Trouble focuses on roughly ten different women, all in states of personal crisis. Hugely successful porn star Elektra Luxx (Carla Gugino, Watchmen) has just learned that she's pregnant moments before she gets trapped in an elevator with the considerably more straight-laced Doris (Connie Britton, The Brothers McMullen), who is also struggling with questions of maternal responsibility. Another porn star, not-very-bright Holly (Adrianne Palicki, Legion), pines for her best friend, a hooker named Bambi (Emmanuelle Chriqui, Taking Chances), and winds up in a heap of danger when the two go out for a job one night. Maxine (Sarah Clarke, Twilight) may be splitting up with her husband (Simon Baker, Sunset Strip). A flight attendant (Marley Shelton, A Perfect Getaway) considers cheating on her boyfriend with a famous rock star passenger (Josh Brolin, Flirting with Disaster), but things don't turn out quite how she plans. And so on. You get the idea.
There's obviously a heavy streak of John Waters campiness that runs through Women in Trouble, but writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez (who wrote Snakes on a Plane, and appears to be the Scorsese to Carla Gugino's DeNiro, having directed her in this, Rise: Blood Hunter and Judas Kiss) is genuinely interested in listening to and understanding his characters. That's a big part of what makes the film work; rather than just mocking these women for their outrageousness or their choices (several of them are hookers or porn stars, sometimes both), Gutierrez gives them a chance to speak and be heard. Take a scene where Adrianne Palicki's character gives a long speech about the incident in her life that's made her uncomfortable with a certain sex act; on the page, it's shocking and gross and could easily be played for uneasy laughs, but Guiterrez and Palicki somehow make it meaningful and sad.
It's scenes like this that give Women in Trouble its unique tone, and that make the movie involving despite its deliberate trashiness (the excellent cast of very pretty ladies doesn't hurt, either). The movie is like a Roger Corman film by way of Lifetime, so you get teary conversations about regret in between frequent graphic discussions about oral sex. It's an odd mix that Guiterrez has mostly pulled off. I say "mostly" because there are a few subplots and sequences that are either unnecessary or just don't work. An extended sequence of "interviews" conducted in therapy (featuring, among others, Elizabeth Berkley, who is so excited but also so scared) borders on pretentious, and while it's a lot of fun to see Planet Terror co-stars Shelton and Brolin reunite, their story line fails to gather much traction (though Gutierrez does make it pay off in one of those "everything is connected" plot twists). Be sure to stay tuned until after the end credits, by the way, for a long (and somewhat pointless) scene involving Gugino and Palicki being interviewed by a blogger played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt ((500) Days of Summer). He's credited as one of the stars on the disc jacket, but you'll miss his role if you turn the film off too soon.
The Blu-ray of Women in Trouble from Screen Media doesn't do much to capitalize on the high-def format. The film is presented in a 1.85:1 (not 2.35, as is stated on the disc jacket), 1080p transfer that's colorful and bright, but (partially because the film was shot on digital video) looks a little flat and lacks the depth and separation that most Blu-ray titles offer. While detail is usually good -- particularly in the many close-ups of faces -- several shots look soft (there is a scene in which Connie Britton sits talking on a hospital bench, and it continually switches back and forth between a soft medium shot and a finely detailed close-up). True HD devotees aren't likely to stand for the lack of a lossless audio option on the disc, but the standard 5.1 surround track is able to get the job done.
The supplemental section is pretty sparse, too. You get the film's original teaser trailer, a mock behind-the-scenes interview with Gugino and Adrianne Palicki in character, and a collection of deleted scenes mostly stemming from the problematic "therapy" sequence. That's it.
A trip over to IMDb tells me that Gutierrez is already in post-production on a follow up on Women in Trouble, called Elektra Luxx (think of it as the Fay Grim to Hal Hartley's Henry Fool). While the title suggests the movie will focus only on Gugino's pregnant porn star character, the cast list shows that a number of cast members will reunite for Luxx; I guess it's more of a traditional sequel than a spin-off. While my first instinct is to say that a sequel to Women in Trouble is wholly unnecessary, the promise of spending another 90 minutes in the company of these characters doesn't sound so bad. Plus, Gutierrez seems to understand one of the most basic rules of filmmaking: a movie with Carla Gugino is always better than a movie without Carla Gugino -- particularly one in which she spends a great deal of screen time in underpants.
Bring on Elektra Luxx.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Screen Media Films
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes