Finding Bliss


"What do you mean there's going to be a quiz?"

“What do you mean there’s going to be a quiz?”

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Phase 4) Leelee Sobieski, Matthew Davis, Denise Richards, Donnamarie Recco, Jamie Kennedy, Kristen Johnston, Mircea Monroe, P.J. Byrne, Caroline Aaron, Tim Bagley, Christa Campbell, Marcus J. Spencer, Sammi Hanratty, Stormy Daniels, Garry Marshall, Ron Jeremy, Zach Cumer, Mario Cassem, Maggy Bashaw, Kimbre Lancaster, Julie Davis. Directed by Julie Davis

Mainstream filmmakers and film fans tend to look down their noses at the porn industry. Even though it has become a multi-billion dollar business, the general feeling is that the writing is godawful, the acting is worse and the production values are almost non-existent. The popular conception of the porn business is that it is made up of predators, the desperate and the drug-addicted. Rarely are those who work in the business given any sort of, I don’t know, humanity.

Jody Balaban (Sobieski), has graduated from NYU film school and heads to Los Angeles armed with a student film she’s inordinately proud of, despite the inconvenient truth that nobody has yet been able to sit through it from start to finish. Still, she’s ready to make her splash in the industry which is sadly uninterested in her potential.

She gets a job as a film editor for Grind Productions, which is at least a foot in the door. When she opens the door, she is horrified to discover that it is a porn studio. Jody, you see, is a bit uptight about sex, being still a virgin at 25 and quite content to remain so for the foreseeable future. However, she’s surprised to discover that the star director for Grind is Jeff Drake (M. Davis) whose art film from the beginning of his own career is an inspiration to Jody, one she considers to be a masterpiece.

Deciding to make the best of things, she tries to make it through the hardcore sex she witnesses daily, using the studio facilities and sets at night to make her own non-pornographic film with the actors and actresses from the sex productions; they are eager enough to help not just out of the goodness of their hearts but also because they hope it might be a ticket into the mainstream. The leads, Bliss (Richards) and Dick Harder (Kennedy) turn out to be real sweethearts.

And for her own part, Jody is slowly falling in love with Jeff despite the odds being stacked against them – they really don’t appear to have a whole lot in common, particularly since Jeff is a hardened cynic and Jody a card-carrying optimist. Still, stranger couples have worked out.

While Boogie Nights looked at both the dark side and the less so, Finding Bliss plays it strictly upbeat. Everyone in the movie more or less has a heart of gold; even the a-holes turn out to be not so bad once you get to know them. Sobieski as Jody is a little bit naive, a little bit plucky and a little bit arrogant but soon comes around to discover that porn Isn’t So Bad. The last half of the movie kinds of descend into a typical rom-com purgatory with all the cliches therein, burning away any goodwill the audience might have accrued during the first half.

Sobieski has always been to my mind an actress with the kind of charm and screen presence to have been a Helen Hunt-sort of actress, which never really developed for her. It’s a shame too; she is certainly the best thing about this movie, deftly handling both the unpleasant parts of Jody’s nature (she’s a bit judgmental about sexuality) and the overly pleasant parts of her personality without becoming cloying or unlikable. We root for Jody even when she isn’t at her best. However, I have to admit that I’m mystified about the romance between Jody and Jeff. Jody doesn’t seem to be the kind of woman that would be attracted to Jeff and it feels more like the two are given a romance because the story requires one. After all, what’s a romantic comedy without a romance?

The rest of the cast is pretty solid as well, with Kennedy showing that he can have a winning screen personality when the right role comes along, and 3rd Rock From the Sun stalwart Johnston showing her underused comedic form as the wise boss of Grind.

While they tend to overuse Jody’s distaste for all things sexual, the movie has some genuinely funny moments although nothing earth-shaking. Overall, if I had to do a one-word review for the film it would be “pleasant” which would be meant in the most empty-headed sense. I would have preferred that the porn industry be portrayed with a little more edge; while I appreciate the attempt at humanization of the people who work in the industry, I would have liked actual humans rather than these overly nice people who remind me unnervingly of Stepford Wives and Husbands.

WHY RENT THIS: Sobieski is charming. Everyone is generally likable.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Devolves into standard rom-com cliches. Romance isn’t believable. Lacks the kind of edge that would draw the viewer in to the story.
FAMILY VALUES: Very strong sexual content, graphic nudity, explicit dialogue and foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Several actual porn actors appear in one or both of the movies depicted in the movie.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $6,783 on a $1.2M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix, Amazon
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Boogie Nights
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT: The Man With the Iron Fist

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The Virginity Hit


The Virginity Hit

Nothing like the awkwardness of teen sex to draw an audience into the theaters.

(2010) Sex Comedy (Columbia) Matt Bennett, Zach Pearlman, Jacob Davich, Justin Kline, Krysta Rodriguez, Nicole Weaver, Harry Zittel, Savannah Welch, Seth Barrish, Tina Parker, Sunny Leone, Daniel Weber, John McLeaish, Ramona Tyler. Directed by Andrew Gurland and Huck Botko

 

When you’re a teenager, sex isn’t just a compulsion, it’s an obsession. Getting laid is one of the major rites of passage, particularly for young boys who yearn to be men. The hormonal nature of teen-ness has of late run head-on into the modern generation’s desire to document every aspect of their lives on Twitter and YouTube. You know something had to give.

Matt (Bennett) is the last of four friends to lose his virginity and that event will soon be taking place as he and his girlfriend Nicole (Weaver) intend to do the deed on their second anniversary. This will be marked with a hit on a special bong purchased for just that purpose – one which has been already used by the other three mates.

Things go horribly wrong when Matt discovers that Nicole cheated on him with a college frat boy. When confronted, Harry (Zittel) neither confirms nor denies that any sex took place. Matt’s adopted brother Zack (Pearlman) advises Matt to go through with the de-flowering, and then break up with Nicole. However when Nicole discovers she’s being filmed, she freaks out and angrily admits to having allowed Harry to suckle her breast but  only that. The two break up and Nicole’s father shows up to fetch his daughter, shoving Matt into the underbrush in the process. Matt’s fall becomes a YouTube sensation.

A beautiful young woman named Becca (Welch) sees the video and takes pity on Matt. Not only is she willing to be the one to take Matt’s virginity, she is experienced enough to make it memorable. She however makes the condition that Matt must purchase a nice suit. Matt, not able to afford such threads, goes to his biological father (Barrish) for the funds and finds out that the college trust that Matt’s mom left him had been emptied by his dad to buy drugs.

The guys – including the other members of the quartet Jacob (Davich) and Justin (Kline) – help Matt steal an Armani suit and when Matt turns up for the big night, Becca further stipulates that Matt must shave his pubic regions. Matt finally shows up for the gig and Becca tells Zack that the actual event cannot be filmed, but that Matt can practice on a blow-up doll in order to get started. Becca then leaves. Matt waits three hours before leaving himself.

It turns out that Becca isn’t her real name and that she’s a graduate student studying male behavior. The tape of Matt practicing on the blow-up doll becomes a viral sensation and Matt locks himself in his room for two weeks, completely humiliated. His friends try to get his favorite porn star Sunny Leone (herself) to help out a fan and she agrees to – for a price. The quartet and their friends raise the funds and it looks finally as if Matt is going to lose his cherry to a porn star. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, everything. This is kind of a mess, the conceit being that it is recorded by the cast (mostly playing themselves) on iPhones, video cameras and other recording devices. Given that the movie was produced by Funny or Die impresarios Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (of Step Brothers and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby fame) should touch a nerve with the Internet-savvy, at whom this is clearly aimed.

The problem is that for one thing, it isn’t very funny. Yes, it certainly has an authenticity about how this generation of teens feels the need to capture every aspect of their lives and share it via social networking and videos but there is a caveat there – most of our lives, teens and adults alike – are too damn boring to warrant much an hour and a half in the theaters let alone streaming video. The ad libs here are not what you’d call catchphrase-worthy.

The acting, pretty much by unknowns exclusively, is nearly uniform in its stiffness. None of the performers really capture my attention and create characters that I want to spend time with. I found my attention wandering throughout the movie, glancing at my iPhone and playing mah-jongg when I got bored which was frequently.

The teen sex comedy has been done to death with the American Pie and Porky’s movies, and the found footage phenomenon that started pretty much in the horror genre with The Blair Witch Project has also been overused of late. While the melding of the two seems like a good idea on paper, to be honest the execution lacks wit or cleverness enough to capture my attention for more than a few minutes. In that sense, it brought me back to my teen years perfectly.

WHY RENT THIS: Captures the connection between the Internet generation and their obsession with documenting everything in a very authentic way.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The jokes aren’t particularly funny and watching teenagers awkwardly try to get laid isn’t my idea of a fun 90 minutes.

FAMILY VALUES:  As you might imagine, there’s a good deal of sexual content and nudity, a little bit of drinking and drug use and a whole lot of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Almost all of the dialogue is ad-libbed.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s some audition footage, as well as a focus on Nicole Weaver, who worked at a popular theme restaurant in New Jersey at the time this was filmed and continued to work there after the movie was released.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $636,706 on a $2M production budget; even with no budget at all it lost money.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: End of Days