Nineteen year-old Linnea (newcomer Sofia Kappel) is determined to become a superstar in the porn actress. Arriving at LAX from Sweden rebranded as Bella Cherry, when asked the purpose of her trip, she responds “Pleasure.”
Laura's Review: C+
Cowriter (with Peter Modestij)/director Ninja Thyberg expands upon her 2013 short of the same name for her X-rated feature debut, combining her college focus on gender studies with filmmaking by examining the protocols of the porn industry. Unfortunately, what she presents is a rather simplistic yet harrowing look at exploitation through the eyes of a newbie whose inner life is never really exposed. What we do get is a look at the mechanics of porn shoots although most that Bella experiences are what her male agents refer to as ‘bad days.’
There is something to be said for Thyberg’s production, which presents a clean, bright vision of L.A., a sterile world of vivid color displayed against white backdrops (Bella is confused when she is handed a plastic wrapped douche on her first shoot, although safe sex practices are never mentioned). This ‘clean’ surface obscures what lies beneath. Take, for example, Bella’s first day on a porn shoot. She is recorded responding to questions by the man asking them, Bear (Chris Cock, "Interracial Gangbang Tryouts"), who is filling out her consent form. We hear all the right things about her doing this of her own consent, her thoughts not altered by drugs or drink, her age, what she will and will not go along with, how she has the right to stop filming at any time, that she knows what she is being paid and what that amount is. She is comforted by the three men on set (Bear, her middle-aged costar and the director) when she is nervous beforehand and praised for a job well done upon completion. And yet when she decides to step up her game with a ‘rough’ shoot, a requirement to becoming the top echelon ‘Speedway Girl’ she desires to be, all these things are repeated in an entirely different, threatening and dangerous atmosphere which she describes to her agent, Mike (Jason Toler, "Crack House of the Dead"), as hours of rape (he’s incensed at her use of the word, but that’s really what we’ve just witnessed, a total debasement of this young woman). That the porn industry is ruled by the patriarchy and women are objectified and abused is really all “Pleasure” has to offer, its ‘theme’ represented by a score contrasting male rap with ethereal female chorales.
Thyberg presents herself as sex positive, stating that porn itself is not the issue, but she does not present a single sex scene, the first arguably the exception, which appears to be pleasurable for the female performers. Bella may proclaim ‘I like cock,’ but when she tries to make her mark by taking two anally, the woman is clearly in pain. (It is notable that Bear from the first shoot informed her he was not a star in the industry but a ‘fetish,’ interracial being the *most extreme* in porn. He’s requested by Bella for this shoot and does not seem happy with the prospect, yet quietly talks her through it.)
The film is more notable for its female solidarity, at least in the trenches. Bella lives in a ‘model house’ where at first she shuns ‘catty’ female companionship. Her reserve is broken by her roommate, Joy (Revika Reustle aka Zelda Morrison, "Anal Perfection 6"). The woman from Florida shows Bella tricks of the trade, is up for anything but no patsy. When the girls attend an industry party, Bella first sets her eyes on Ava (Evelyn Claire, "A Very Adult Wednesday Addams 3," a stunning but dead-eyed brunette), the Speedway Girl she then aspires to be. Spotting Bear, Bella’s welcomed onto the red carpet and introduced to an influential female filmmaker, but Joy tries to sidle up to hot male star Caesar (Lance Hart). He calls her ‘trailer trash’ and is pushed into the pool for his insult. This incident will have a telling refrain when Bella, whose star is now rising, requests Joy for a girl on girl on boy shoot only to discover the male lead has been replaced…with Caesar. How Bella reacts to Joy’s abuse sets in motion the film’s climax, a case of the abused becoming the abuser.
There’s plenty more unpleasantness on hand, from a bondage shoot whose ‘safe’ word is uttered only by the unambitious to aging Ashley (Dana DeArmond, "MILF Performers of the Year 2020") shrugging off an anecdote where Mike essentially pimped her out under false work pretenses. “Pleasure” invites us into the porn industry but its titular promise only corresponds to its technical filmmaking aspects and the promise of its fledgling star.
Robin's Review: B-
Neon opens "Pleasure" in select theaters on 5/13/22. Click here for play dates.