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Let’s Talk About Saving $8.50

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 OPINIONS









Let's Talk About Saving $8.50

by Liza Featherstone




“Every woman has a secret fantasy . . . every man wants to
know.” It’s unfair to judge a film by its publicity, but unfortunately, this cheesy

marketing slogan for writer/director Troy Beyer’s quasi-documentary
Let’s Talk About Sex says a lot more than you’d hope about the
movie.


    

Jazz, played by the pixie-ish Beyer, is a young advice
columnist with an idea for a TV show: real Miami women talking freely
about “mating and dating in the ’90s.” She’s under a tight deadline to
put together a demo tape, so — in the first of many wildly improbable
scenarios — her roommates, the gorgeous-and-needy Lena and the
tough-but-vulnerable Michelle, drop everything and help her out.


    

Most of the footage for Jazz’s TV show is “real” — real Miami women
whom Beyer really interviewed. Unlike the fictional characters, these
women have skin imperfections; not all have washboard stomachs or
sultry stares. Some hate it when men stare at their breasts; others
love the attention. Some cry — like one woman describing how it felt to be stood
up on a date — when they talk about how lovers have humiliated them.
One woman describes how she hates it when she’s giving a guy a blow job
and he “does this”: she demonstrates someone roughly grabbing her
head and jerking it up and down. Such testimonials are so
intimate they make us cringe with recognition.


    

Unfortunately the fictional parts of the film — which take up a lot
more time, or at least seem to — make us cringe too, but for quite a
different reason: they are preposterously unlikely. So much of Let’s
Talk
takes place either in clubs or among club kids — perpetuating
the (tired) notion that true sexiness is hip and perfect-looking, youthful
and assertive. (Madonna’s friend and world-famous Miami club owner Ingrid
Casares is thanked in the credits; need I say more about this film’s milieu?) It’s
as if the women in the documentary sequence were judged too real
for commercial consumption, so the film-makers had to throw together this
Calvin Klein ad of a plot for better packaging.


    

Worse, the dialogue makes Bill and Monica’s love-mumbles sound
ingenious. In one terminally chic nightclub scene, shortly before

Michelle gets blasted on coke, she has an Eye Contact Moment with a cute
bartender. As she’s walking away, he stops her: “Hey, do I know you
from somewhere?” Plausible so far. But wait. She turns around, gives him
a sizzling glare, leans over the bar and whispers in his ear: “The next
time you connect with a woman the way you and I just did, do not ask her if you
know her from somewhere. Tell her you want to take her home and touch
her in all the places her last lover never did.” Oy.


    

Let’s Talk has a weak concept and a weak script. But that’s not
all that’s wrong with it. Despite its (very) cute lesbians and post-modern
self-consciousness, this movie, like most of pop culture, has a blandly
conventional take on women, men, desire and sex. In one scene, Lena says
promisingly, “We’ve got to get beyond this Mars and Venus bullshit.” But
this movie is Mars and Venus bullshit. In the fictional scenarios,
men are dogs in utterly hackneyed ways. In one scene, after sex the guy turns
his back to the woman and gets ready to — oh, doesn’t this make us hopping mad,
girls! — go to sleep; when she says she
wants to talk, he protests “I talked to you before I fucked you.” Granted,
men aren’t geniuses at post-coital conversation, but really.
Lena’s on-off boyfriend only comes to see her for “booty calls” at
4 a.m. — using his fictitious band’s fictitious break-ups as an excuse
for not calling her. The good guys are no more realistic — and even
less appealing — than the bad. They fulfill the female characters’
fantasies by doing things that would drive most women I know into
committed celibacy: Jazz’s boyfriend Michael provides her happy ending
by surprising her with a ring and spray-painting “Jazz, Will You Marry
Me?” on the side of his van.


    

Martians (at least the bad ones) may want booty but Venusians, as we all
well know, want communication, connection and especially love. The three
main fictional characters’ search for True Love unconvincingly eclipses
everything else, including Jazz’s ambition and
insecurity about her career — at first rendered with painful
believability (the film opens with her nervously fidgeting and smiling
eagerly through an interview at the local TV station) —
which Let’s Talk ends up reducing to a
frustrated maternal impulse (she can’t have children, for some
unspecified medical reason, so she’s driven to “create” in other ways).
And in the most annoyingly Hollywoodish sort of resolution, it ends up
being okay that she didn’t get her TV show because she got her man
(van included).


    

The “Mars and Venus bullshit” also affects the visual experience of
Let’s Talk. The film-makers clearly knew the male audience would
want to see a lot more female than male skin, and they obliged. This will

probably make it less erotic for most straight women than it might have
been. And since the lesbians, though crucial to the plot, aren’t shown
having sex, lesbians may be equally unimpressed. But even as
old-fashioned wank material for straight men, Let’s Talk About
Sex’s
sex scenes are pretty limp, probably because the film-makers didn’t want to
alienate women by making them too pornographic (Venusians hate that).
Thus the sex scenes end up looking like tampon ads with a Skinemax twist.
Lost opportunities for real sexiness abound; for instance, when Jazz
puts herself in front of the camera and says “I could come from kissing,” the scene
fades into a kiss between her and Michael (throughout the film, women’s
testimonials are illustrated by reenactments).
I’ve never seen a movie in which a woman came just from
kissing, so I was pretty intrigued. But — surprise, surprise — the
reenactment just shows Jazz and her boyfriend smooching unremarkably;
it’s not even particularly sensual, much less orgasmic.


    

Sex is a big topic, obviously, so it would be unfair to take Beyer to
task for not exploring issues like fetishism, public sex, group sex,
S&M and STDs. But Let’s Talk About Sex purports to go into the
uncharted jungle of female sexuality, and still, for the most part,
shies away from anything that’s not already well-worn women’s magazine
fodder. A movie about men talking about sex would certainly have covered
the turn-on and guilt of affairs; like it or not, women talk about this
subject all the time. And not just about what scum men are for cheating,
but about why we cheat — or want to. And
how about female ejaculation: Do we spray? How much? Doing what? How
about pornography: Do we like it? What kind? Or masturbation: Where
and how? How often? How long? While thinking about what? Let’s
Talk
gives all this stuff short shrift, or leaves it out altogether.


    

These omissions have much to do with the messed-up premise that pervades
this film, as well as most of pop culture — the idea that women are
fundamentally sexually different from men, always looking for love,
while men always want to get off. What exactly is so threatening about
the idea that everyone — male or female — sometimes wants all of these
things? The dirty secret about women and sex is how much like men we
actually are; maybe this is such an upsetting idea to men and women
alike that we do everything we can to avoid it, including watching tripe
like this.



For more Liza Featherstone, read:

Going with the Flow
Shocking Fuzz
Paradise Lost: Living in Latex
Let’s Talk About Saving $8.50
The Art of Noise
Seduced by Casanova: The Psychoanalyst on the Lover
Circling the Threesome





©1998
Liza Featherstone
and Nerve.com