2001 film directed by Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club), released arthouse-style by Artisan. Stars Peter Sarsgaard (Boys Don't Cry) as millionaire dotcommer Richard Longman, and Molly Parker (Sunshine, The Five Senses) as drummer-by-day, stripper-by-night Florence, "just Florence." Also features a wonderful performance from Carla Gugino (Spy Kids, Snake Eyes). The film is unrated but would definitely garner an NC-17 (from sexual content).

The most interesting thing about how this movie is marketed is how much focus Artisan put on the web site. They enlisted the director, Wang to oversee production, as well as one of the *ahem* actresses, Alisha Klass, to provide original content. The website is a virtual strip club, with strippers enticing you closer until you reach a private room in the back. It culminates with a private internet chat with Alisha, and if you can get her off, she provides links to the movie's trailer. The web site evokes the themes in the story, but is slightly misleading.

Unfortunately, I feel the trailer is completely misleading. In it are scenes of a strip club with a performer sticking a lollipop into her vagina, then feeding it to a patron. If you're looking for erotica, this is about as far as it goes in the movie.

The movie starts with Richard and Florence checking into a Las Vegas hotel. Through flashbacks we learn that Richard has paid Florence $10,000 to come with him to Las Vegas for three nights. Florence sets several rules: four hours a night, no kissing on the mouth, no talking about feelings, and no penetration.

Before the first night is over, Florence starts to wonder if there's more going on. Before you start thinking this is Pretty Woman, I will state here that the movie is much more realistic than that. If anything, it's closer to Startup.com. It's definitely does not deliver what the trailer seems to promise.

That concludes my plot summary. I will now provide a critical analysis, which contains spoilers. If you have not seen the film yet, I suggest you read no further.

Spoilers Ahead

The two main themes are stated by each character in their definition of "the center of the world." To Richard, it is sitting in front of a computer which is connected to a worldwide network. To Florence, it is the vagina.

From the beginning, we can see that Richard is not entirely correct. He forgets to tip the bellhop and chases after him, bumbling for money in his pocket. Being connected to millions of computers at once makes him no better at performing standard human convention. Throughout the movie, we see how alienated Richard really is, as he spirals into depression, masturbating to internet pornography, and missing investor meetings. His nervous laugh and odd line of questioning of Florence's friend Jerri denote an inexperience with real human contact.

Florence, on the other hand, wonders if she is starting to feel something for Richard. However, she soon realizes it for what it is and returns to her business persona. Richard, devoid of real contact, mistakes the contact from transaction as a real bond. Here, we see how undeveloped he is, as he fails to please Florence, ejaculating much too early. His performance betrays the facade his name affords him. Florence must finish herself off, masturbating as Richard looks on, a voyeur as usual.

The vagina, as Florence suggested, does not neccessarily create a bond. A business transaction is void of any real emotion. In this respect, their answers complement each other, in that computers do not neccessarily bring people any closer together as a strip club brings performer and patron together. The conclusions the characters could learn is that they are both mistaken in that neither creates a truly meaningful connection.

The ending is realistic, if somewhat disappointing. Perhaps this is meant to evoke what the characters feel. Despite the promotional materials, the movie is not all that erotic, and leans more towards the standard low-budget intellectual arthouse film archetype. Unfortunately, there is not much to explore, which leaves the viewer mostly unsatisfied. But that may be the whole point.

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