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In a 2016 Vanity Fair article, Nancy Jo Sales wrote about prostitution going mainstream, describing a new economy of young people selling their bodies to pay off student loans or just to get by in the tough economic climate. On the same theme, Ben Hozie makes his feature debut with this semi-insightful, uncomfortably funny indie drama about a man who becomes obsessed with an online sex worker. It’s a film with a slackerish mumblecore vibe, and Hozie is refreshingly grown up about sex. But it’s hard to see how his film adds much to the conversation about intimacy in the internet age.
It’s set in the self-consciously hip New York art scene where Jack (Peter Vack) calls himself a professional gambler; though watching him max out his credit cards playing internet blackjack it’s obvious that he’s hooked. His other addiction is cam-girls – women who perform sex acts in front of a webcam for money. Jack spends a fortune tipping his favourite, dominatrix Scarlet (Julia Fox); she calls him her slave and in a funny-excruciating scene virtually stubs her cigarette out on his tongue.
What’s clever about the script is that Jack isn’t some “incel” creep who can’t function in the real world. He’s a bit lost, but he’s funny and good-looking (though pallid from all that screen time). An artist ex-girlfriend wants to sleep with him – sex in the real world. But Jack prefers it virtually.
About halfway in the perspective flips to Scarlet, played with super-sexy charisma by Fox (who was Adam Sandler’s girlfriend in Uncut Gems and worked as a dominatrix in real life). There is no question of slut-shaming Scarlet – being a sex worker is her choice. But she’s a disappointing character: empty-headed and, away from the webcam, a doormat to her slimy playwright boyfriend. This film is not nearly so edgy as it thinks it is.
• Pvt Chat is available on digital platforms from 12 February.
Source: The Guardian
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