Judge Patrick Bromley's promising career in the porn industry was cut tragically short by his inability to cope with his coworkers' laughing and pointing.
A film by Ash.
It's my own fault. I recognize that I have a problem. I have some kind of instant aversion to directors who go by one-word names. Maybe it's unfair that I draw such a distinction between pop stars (where I readily accept singular monikers like Cher and Madonna) and film directors, or maybe it's because I'm not sure I've ever seen a good movie directed by a one-namer—titles like the lamentable Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (helmed by the devil known as "Kaos") and the Charlie's Angels series (directed by the pantingly "hip" McG) come to mind. The only good one-namer film I can think of is Tarsem's The Cell, and even he had the good sense to add his last name, Singh, by the time of the movie's DVD release.
When approaching the newly-released This Girl's Life with its tagline, "A film by Ash," the mind reels with apprehensions of pretense. Having watched the movie, I can honestly say that I wasn't too far off in my original prediction—this man who calls himself only Ash has made a pretentious, predictable, and ultimately hollow film that fails to say even a single thing new about its subject matter. What's worse is that watching it, you get the clear sense that the filmmaker (and, to a much lesser extent, the cast) felt he was making something important and profound—that this examination of the adult industry is in some way insightful, despite the fact that there's very little that can be said about porn (which is essentially indefensible—it is what it is) that wasn't already said in Paul Thomas Anderson's masterful Boogie Nights, which actually did find an original approach to the subject matter. All that This Girl's Life is left with are shallow observations (lines like "Shaking hands…why do people do that?" are meant to pass as deep) and lame sexual references—because the main character likes sex. Get it?
The movie tells the story of Moon (Juliette Marquis, Into the Sun), referred to as the "number one porn star in the world," who makes a living by appearing on one of those 24-hour voyeurism websites (that she is a star of internet porn, and not of films, is one of this movie's two original ideas). Marquis, in her film debut, is effortlessly sexy and comfortable in her skin; why, then, does she feel the need to accentuate those qualities with a sleepy, would-be "seductive" performance—a kind of forced sultriness that comes across as wooden and more than a little bored? She's not helped any by the character, whose entrance into the porn world (seen in flashback) makes little sense. We're told that Moon loves sex and that she's totally self-empowered; it's the same tired faux-feminist argument (often purported by men) for pornography—since the woman is "calling the shots" and owning her decisions, she's not being exploited.
The argument is indicative of one of This Girl's Life many falsehoods. It's yet another film that wants to pretend that the porn industry is nothing more than a business—that the sex contained within is simply the commodity it happens to trade in. That's all fine and good (though not at all an original notion), but this movie doesn't make that distinction. Moon tells us that she's the one in control (speaking straight to the camera in a device that's meant to be confessional but comes off as gimmicky) and that she loves what she does, but that philosophy is at a complete right angle to the movie's intended message; if Moon is in it for the sex, and the money is incidental, then it's not a business—it's done for pleasure.
To further cement its insincere approach of detachment from sexuality, the movie goes through the motions of pretending to strip away any eroticism from the sex and nudity (of which the R-rated version I watched has a fair amount, though an Unrated version—presumably with even more of both—also exists). Writer-director Ash, though, perhaps anticipating that some soft-core action would help the movie's shelf life, can't help but linger over the naked bodies of his stars—most notably during the flashback to Moon's first porn scene, a girl-girl romp with fellow porn star Cheyenne (played by Cheyenne Silver, an actress I have never ever heard of or seen before. Ever. Seriously. I swear.). The decision to make a film about one woman's brazen, in-your-face honesty as inherently dishonest as this one is not, I believe, intentional—the irony seems to be lost on the filmmaker.
A subplot appears about halfway through the film in which one of Moon's non-porn friends (she seems to have two, one of whom is played by The Rundown's Rosario Dawson, who exerts her independence and gender equality by wearing suits and smoking cigars) asks that Moon test out a man she's been dating to see if he will be faithful. Assuming we forget that this was already the plot of the 1998 David Schwimmer-Jason Lee film, Kissing a Fool (and that that film was smart enough to play this preposterous setup for laughs), we have to question what it's doing in a film that's meant to be a gritty examination of the porn industry—it belongs in (or as) another film altogether. What's worse, the subplot sidetracks and just about derails the entire film; Moon begins a new business as a "Sex Investigator," in which she becomes a kind of temptress-for-hire, getting paid by women to test out the fidelity of their husbands and boyfriends. This eventually puts her in a dangerous situation with a car dealer (Michael Rapaport, True Romance, in a performance that somehow manages to generate menace and sympathy), forcing her to rethink her lifestyle and the choices she's made. Unfortunately, it's all too little too late; just as we don't understand why she got into porn in the first place, we don't understand her thought process in getting out.
In the middle of this mess, we have James Woods (Videodrome) as Moon's father, afflicted with Parkinson's disease. The performance is kind of incredible; not only does Woods capture the mannerisms and physical effects of Parkinson's (which I'll readily admit I haven't seen done in a film before, making this the second of This Girl's Life's two original ideas), but also adds a layer of sadness and frustration—he's a man imprisoned by a body that is failing him. On its own, Woods' performance is the only thing in the film that works; in the context of the movie, however, it's yet another element that doesn't make sense. What purpose does it serve? The relationship between Woods and Moon isn't really explored beyond the idea that she loves him and takes care of him. She never even feels inconvenienced by him—which sounds terrible but is also a flawed human response—despite the fact that he manages to call her every time she's with a man (a device that isn't meant to be comical but is). Woods' character and performance are so strong that they deserve a much better film; he is so touching, so effective, that every other element of the movie suffers in comparison.
If This Girl's Life is a mess, then Hart Sharp's DVD of the film is an even bigger mess. For starters, it's presented in a full-frame aspect ratio despite the fact that it doesn't appear to have been shot that way (unless, of course, director Ash deliberately framed shots so that actors consistently appear on opposite sides and entirely out of frame, save for their noses). The movie was shot on video, leaving the image susceptible to blur and a great deal of grain, especially in darker sequences. The audio track is hollow and flat, lacking any punch even from the movie's bass-driven dance-and-hip-hop score (the sound doesn't appear to have been recorded very well, either, with audible microphone pops during the voice over). The DVD jacket lists several extras, but I cannot comment on their quality, as the screener I was provided with didn't contain any of them. And, incidentally, the film runs 104 minutes—though the disc jacket lists the running time as 84 minutes.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Hart Sharp Video
• Alternate Ending
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