Judge Bill Gibron was hoping for something more slick than slippery.
A Sexy Screwball Comedy
Filmmaker Gillian Black (Kelly Hutchinson, Strangers with Candy) has struggled for nearly two years to get her documentary, Feminism for Dummies, distributed. When a call comes informing her that the movie has just been accepted into the Cannes Film Festival, she believes her time has finally arrived. Unfortunately, there's a little matter of a $50,000 lab bill. Without payment, the company will not release the finished print. Quite by accident, she runs into friend and actor Martin Breedlove (Wes Ramsey, Charmed) on the Manhattan streets. Sympathetic to her cause, he introduces her to Michaela Stark (Laila Robbins, The Good Shepherd). She makes adult films and might be willing to invest in the project. Of course, there's a catch. Gillian will have to take over the flagging production of Michaela's XXX adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Naturally, this rubs her feminist principles the wrong way, but with a husband (Jim True-Frost, The Wire) who's desperate to have a baby and the chance to finally realize her career dreams, this dedicated director is willing to travel down the Slippery Slope into the exploitation of women.
Like oil and water, or young Hollywood and a scandal-free media existence, pornography and feminism just don't mix. One of the basic tenets of the social philosophy is the protection and non-exploitation of women. Adult films, on the other hand, rely on the inherent sexiness (and carnal willingness) of their actresses to rack up video sales—or online downloads. So it would seem almost impossible to make a movie in which a highly principled director, desperate for money to complete her feminist documentary, would stoop to doing XXX fare to foot the bills. With cover art that suggests another Misty Mundae romp and an agenda that you can sense the minute the movie begins, writer/director Sarah Schenck is intent on having it both ways. She wants to support her cause while debunking the myth that all adult material is made by miscreants drooling in alleyways, smoking crack while strangling and/or molesting babies. Both messages turn meaningless, however, since Slippery Slope devises its delivery through that most inconsistent of indie communications: the comedy.
Making people laugh is a tough business. Just ask the millions of former SNL-ers working in dinner theater. Slippery Slope thinks it's downright hilarious, waving that by now worthless post-millennial irony like a freak flag of outright funny. But it's the movie laughing at us, not we viewers with it. Schenck never really lets us get a handle on her characters. They seem carved out of an observational notebook of clever idiosyncrasies. Some things are never adequately explained—the chores time clock agreement, the whole baby/no baby deal with the couple. Others are overdone in their obviousness (the porn stars with the flagrant hearts of gold). Take Gillian's PC apologist husband Hugh. He's so whiny, so needy in his "desire to be a daddy" desperation that you want to warn Child Protective Services in advance, just in case he gets his genealogical wish. Or how about our heroine's horny mom? What's so clever about making an old matron into a smut-loving vibrator testing device? It may have been witty back when Vivian Cavender was flaunting her rate of intercourse with Maude Findlay, but even that's questionable.
No, the biggest problem with Slippery Slope, outside the lack of laughs, is the nonexistent rooting interest. No matter how good an actress Kelly Hutchinson is, she can't make us care about Gillian's fate. We scoff at her dilemma, wondering how someone so supposedly smart and together could discover she owed a processing lab for completion of her film. Sounds like something she would check on once in a while, huh? And what's with the one-note reaction to sexuality? The faces she makes when the "action" begins belie a life so sheltered that she must have been living under an East Village rock since she was weaned. Comedy can't handle this kind of contradiction and complication. We need to identify with Gillian's plight, not pick it apart. Yet a great deal of this film feels like a lesson in identifying how not to make a lo-fi independent farce. There is just too much message mucking up the mirth, especially in light of the way in which Schenck wants to have her cinematic cake and gobble it up as well. Sadly, the end result is not as sweet as she suspects.
Offered by LifeSize Entertainment in a very nice DVD presentation, Slippery Slope looks more or less mainstream in both its tech specs and bonus features. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is clean, colorful, and expertly controlled. The various shots of New York provide a wonderful added touch, and the overall look is both commercial and semi-homemade. As for the aural aspects, the Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1 mix is nothing special. The dialogue is always discernible, and the infrequent musical score never drowns out the actors. As for added content, we are treated to a point-by-point production breakdown via Schneck's spot-on commentary. She provides lots of anecdotes, addressing the many issues that came up during filming. We also get a selection of deleted scenes (including an alternative opening and ending) and a decent behind-the-scenes documentary. Together they tell an interesting tale of a real labor of motion picture love. Too bad the object of said desire is so dry.
Indeed, Slippery Slope may appeal to those who can rationalize the contradictory approaches and attitudes it takes toward its material. Others will be looking for a little more comic bang for their buck. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Life Size Entertainment
• Audio Commentary with Director Sarah Schenck
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