Dir: Ash. US. 2003. 101 mins.
A star is born in This Girl's Life, the fourth independent feature from maverick Brit director Ash (Bang, Pups). Her name is Juliette Marquis, a stunningly beautiful newcomer whose magnetism and self-assuredness shine off the screen and indeed outshine the movie itself. Looking like a cross between Angelina Jolie and Linda Evangelista, Marquis is the epitome of a movie goddess exuding as much intelligence as sex appeal. Indeed she plays a movie star of sorts - a globally famous porn star called Moon who revels in her independence and freedom to have sex on screen without needing to.
Recognised everywhere she goes, she is a modern woman, or so she thinks: in control of her life, successful, proud of her looks and guiltlessly single. She is also a dutiful daughter, caring for her father (Woods) who suffers from Parkinson's disease and still grieves for his wife, her mother, who committed suicide for no apparent reason ten years earlier. This jaunty portrait of her conflicted life could be a strong seller to foreign buyers anxious for strong marketing hooks. The arrival of such a distinctive face combined with the overtly sexual themes, high production values and strong supporting cast will all ensure that the $1m film has a long life, possibly in theatrical outings, and especially in ancillary media.
Having set up Moon's curious dichotomy of lifestyle, the film introduces a potential boyfriend in the too-good-to-be-true Kip Pardue and a possible new career as a sexual investigator. She stumbles upon this line of work when one of her best friends asks her to test her boyfriend's fidelity by coming onto him. Moon loyally chats up the poor Welshman (Gruffudd) who takes the bait and is promptly dumped for doing so.
The success of the exercise prompts Moon to set up a sexual investigation business where she will test the mettle of potentially cheating husbands with her wiles. All goes well until one husband (Rapaport) rumbles her. Meanwhile her porn mentor and director (Arana) is pressurising her to sign a new contract to his internet webcam service and her father's condition is deteriorating. What's a modern girl to do'
Written as well as directed by Ash, the film is a mish-mash of different styles and tones. It starts with Moon addressing the camera directly a la Alfie, a gimmick which is picked up only sporadically as the film goes on. Woods' character is secondary and the meticulousness of his portrayal of a man with Parkinson's is marginalised by the character's hackneyed final revelations. Meanwhile other characters and situations also don't ring true. Would Moon's best friend - a lawyer played by Rosario Dawson - stand by her' Would the upstanding Welsh schoolteacher be such a cad' Would Pardue offer his heart up to a porn star'
Nor can Ash avoid a certain titillating voyeurism in the proceedings, despite showing the porn industry through Moon's eyes. There are a smattering of graphic nude and sex scenes not to mention too many shots lingering on Moon and her friends in various provocative outfits. When her world comes crashing down in the final act, the film-maker's position is still unclear. Yes, the porn industry is clearly exploitative, but what about This Girl's Life'
Then again, any man attempting such a study is bound to face the same criticism. Ash is also an accomplished film-maker who just about overcomes the implausibilities and unevenness in the film with the sheer energy of his direction and the fortuitous casting of Marquis, who, believe it or not, is endearing and vulnerable while also being a proud nemesis of the woman's movement.
The film, which was shot on HD and converted to 35mm, looks radiant and is one of the finest examples to date of HD looking as good as, perhaps better than, film.
Prod cos: Miracle Mile Films, Muse Productions
Worldwide sales: Boro Vukadinovic
Prods: Boro Vukadinovic, Chris Hanley, David Hillary, Ash.
DoP: Alessandro Zezza.
Prod des: Daniel Berger
Ed: Troy Tataki.
Main cast: Juliette Marquis, James Woods, Kip Pardue, Rosario Dawson, Michael Rapaport, Tomas Arana, Isaiah Washington