Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 14, 2014 3:42 am 
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Misguided therapy

Anja Marquardt's dour first feature about a woman majoring in social psychology working as a sex surrogate is a drab exercise in middling indie style that offers fewer rewards than it might. Ronah (Brooke Bloom) takes on a small number of clients with intimacy issues who are referred to her through a therapist (Dennis Boutsikaris). Watching Ronah and the therapist consulting together on one of her clients in the therapist's office makes one suspect they, and particularly Ronah, whose face seems slow to register authentic emotion, may have intimacy issues of their own.

We don't learn much more about Ronah other than her dreary current life. Her apartment has a leak. The plumbers leave holes in the bathroom wall that make taking showers difficult. She has lonely meals in this apartment, except for one time with a female neighbor she invites over -- who later turns out to be suing her. She gives herself daily hormone injections, in order, she reveals later, to freeze her eggs in case she might later want to have a child. For reasons unexplained -- just her harried existence, presumably -- she has no time to have a boyfriend of her own. A Skype conversation with her brother in the country (Ryan Homchick) reveals their aged mother has wandered off, a worry that till the end of the film is dropped.

One skyline seen from a window indicates this is taking place in New York City. But locations, or any establishing shots, are a mere blip, part of the apparently intended coldness and colorlessness a film that seems to partake of the problems it depicts. Any warmth or atmosphere might presumably disturb the angst-ridden mood, which may owe something to Lodge Kerrigan of Kerane (acknowledged in the end credits), though this film lacks the intensity and sense of place of Kerrigan's work. If the affection Ronah offers is intentionally generic, why should she have to seem such a blank otherwise? It's not till the title comes true that anyone breaks out of blandness, and by then the film is nearly over.

The one bright spot is Ronah's teacher and mentor (Laila Robins), who has done this kind of work herself earlier. She is a warm and spontaneous person, showing the field is not wholly filled with by-the-numbers geeks like Ronah and the referring therapist.

The trajectory is obvious. Ronah gets a new client, Johnny (Marc Menchaca), a bearded anesthetist's assistant, a particularly hard case that she feels is a challenge. Johnny is resistant at first even to arm-touching and barely willing to make eye contact. But aren't they all like this? We get no others to establish a frame of reference. "I want to crack him," she tells the therapist -- not a very warm and fuzzy way of stating her aim. Johnnny expresses dislike of Ronah and at one point says he'd like to strangle her -- a hint of danger left unheeded. Doubtless like other clients Ronah has dealt with, Johnny seems to have had bad past experiences that make him self-protective, and they keep him from wanting to have sex with anyone he knows, He won't tell Ronah who he does have sex with. (It's a sign of the screenplay's lack of clarity that it's unclear if her asking him about that is routine, or a breach of it.)

It's clear Johnny will warm up, Ronah will get too interested in Johnny, and there will be trouble. At the clinically formal first meeting when Johnny must sign an agreement and take a mouth swab sample to show he has no sexually transmitted diseases, yet he is informed that the meetings are "not for sexual gratification or entertainment." What are they for, then? This is another confusing curve ball from the script.

In the event, when they both get interested, sexual gratification clearly occurs. But that's where the trouble starts. Maybe after it's clearly all gone wrong, Ronah ought to decide to get a masters in something else, or realize social psychology doesn't require playing at sex therapy. But the ending does't take Ronah anywhere, except upstate to visit her brother.

Marquardt may intend to provide an unnerving portrait of contemporary alienation. But what we see is a film without warmth based on a screenplay that lacks clarity. There is something clumsy about She's Lost Control (even the title is gauche) that its intentionally "austere" style can't mask. If you want to see a screen treatment about a sex surrogate, better to watch Ben Lewin's superior The Sessions, an interesting, touching, and true story admirably acted by Helen Hunt as the sex therapist and John Hawkes as the needy and grateful client. Helen Hunt's character shows that performing this job with professional restraint need not mean a lack of warmth and humanity. As for She's Lost Control, it's better avoided.

She’s Lost Control, 90 mins., debuted at Berlin Feb. 2014. It was screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art series New Directors/New Films, where it shows Sat. 29 Mar. at 9 pm at Lincoln Center and Sun. 30 Mar at 4:30 at MoMA.

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