Sean McGinnis (Michael Cunio) is fresh from film school and has moved to LA to break into the movie business as a cameraman. But, legit film is a tough nut to crack and Sean takes a job with Hollywood's stepchild - the porno industry. He starts work at the Men of Janus production company, specializing in gay porn, because of his obsession with one of the stars, Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney), and soon agrees to regularly help "prepare" the actor before the camera rolls in "The Fluffer."
Writer Wash West (and co-helmer with Richard Glatzer) starts things off with a bang, so to speak, when Sean comes home from the video store with a copy of "Citizen Kane" as part of his program to view all the classic flicks he can. The bisexual McGinnis is surprised that, instead of the Orson Wells masterpiece, he is watching "Citizen Cum," a movie that is decidedly not about Charles Foster Kane. The star of the movie is Johnny Rebel, a handsome hunk of a guy that becomes the object of Sean's obsession, even after the star-struck cameraman learns that Johnny is only "gay for pay." In fact, the porno star has a long-term relationship with a pretty exotic dancer named Babylon (Roxanne Day).
The title refers, in gay pornography terms, to the person on a set whose function is to prepare or "fluff" the male performers so as to be fully aroused when they go before the camera. It's a labor of love (or lust?) for Sean when it involves fluffing Johnny, but soon becomes part of his job description. If "The Fluffer" stuck with its insight into the gay porno industry it may have been a solid film all around. But, the story takes on too many causes as it moves away from the "business" and examines many story threads: the impact of Johnny and Babylon's chosen professions have on their relationship; the rivalry between Sean and Babylon for Johnny's attention; an unexpected pregnancy; Johnny's ongoing drug abuse (probably triggered by his conflict over his gay-oriented career and his hetero relationship with Julie (Babylon's real name)); and, there is a murder mystery thrown into the mix, just to add a bit of spice.
For the first hour, as "The Fluffer" opens us up to the machinations of making gay porno, things are interesting and exposes us to the workings of an industry that we never see. When it turns away from the seedy though interesting porn business and delves into the personal relationships of the principles the film loses steam. The thing that made the first part so captivating is due mainly to the efforts of an array of veteran character actors that make up the producers of the Men of Janus - Robert Walden, Taylor Negron, Richard Riehle and Tim Bagley. Their faces are familiar (even if you don't recognize the names) and their experience helps elevate things above where one would expect on a modestly budgeted film. Deborah Harry, in a small role as Babylon's boss, gives a nicely layered performance as a tough business woman (she does, after all, manage a strip joint) with a compassionate heart. Adina Porter, as the Men of Janus secretary Silver, is a wry pragmatist - a lesbian, she has a fondness for looking at penises, and took the job to satisfy her likings.
Unfortunately, the main characters don't come up to the same level as the character actors around them. As the action moves away from the business and to the personal triangle of Sean, Johnny and Julie, the film loses its edge and wanders to a conclusion, but not one I cared about. An attempt is made to stir things up when one of the Janus men is murdered but it is merely a diversion.
There is too much of the lives of the stars of "The Fluffer" and not enough of the examination of the porn business. I give it a C+.
When Sean McGinnis (Michael Cunio) gets ready to watch his "Citizen Kane" rental, he discovers the tape inside isn't the classic, but "Citizen Cum," a gay porno flick starring Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney). Besotted by the well built star, Sean acquires a job as cameraman at Men of Janus films (the joke's funny, but over milked), but instead of the romance he'd hoped for with Rebel, he's relegated to the role of "The Fluffer."
Codirected by indie filmmaker Richard Glatzer and gay porno director Wash West, "The Fluffer" examines the relationship between the idolized and their idolaters. While their film makes more trenchant observations about porn industry workers than "Boogie Nights" in its first half, it loses it way when it focuses on a love triangle in its second. The relative inexperience of the film's unknown leading trio as compared to a more seasoned supporting cast contributes to a flaccid wrap up.
As Sean grows bolder in approaching the self-possessed Rebel, he's dismayed to learn that the man he's been fluffing (a fluffer helps male porn stars retain a state of arousal) is a straight, 'gay for pay' guy with a stripper girlfriend. When Mikey (Rebel's real name) returns home to Julie (Roxanne Day), though, he's as remote with her as he is with Sean. 'Don't hustle me,' Julie says to Mike when she suspects he's cheating. Julie quickly lightens the tone, though, so that Mikey can perform once again.
When stripper Babylon (Julie's stage name) discovers she's pregnant, boss Marcella (Deborah Harry) advises abortion, but Julie tells Mike she's keeping his child. Mike responds with a petulant descent into drugging and is so astonished when Men of Janus's Sales Manager Chad Cox (Robert Walden, "All the President's Men") doesn't welcome him back with open arms, he commits a violent act. Suddenly Sean wins out over Julie and harbors Mike, but finds out what Julie already knew - that Mike can't see beyond the glare of his own reflection.
Wash, who wrote "The Fluffer," mines his experience in the industry to get his audience thinking about the difficulty of the work and the additional pressures porn players face maintaining personal relationships. Rebel's like an athlete, or better yet, a bull on a stud farm, paid for his physical prowess, and the daily strokings he receives feed his ego. The matter of fact technical descriptions Sean receives from old hand Sam (Richard Riehle, "Bandits") counterpointed by Rebel and his male costar's agreement to be quick, humorously sum up the workaday aspects of the porn film set. Silver (in a noteworthy turn by Adina Porter), a lesbian working at Janus, explains her presence by her preference for gay porn over the 'sucky' lesbian variety. When Wash attempts to plumb the philosophical depths of the 'fluffing' concept, however, the marvelous industry players are left behind and his leads and his writing begin to tremble under the added weight.
Director of Photography Mark Putnam takes far greater care composing his shots than the 4 cameramen fired in a row at Janus. The film looks far better than the subject it portrays normally would.
"The Fluffer" starts with a bang, but can't quite sustain the expectations it raises.
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