Adventures in Prostitution

Posted May 8, 2008 in Film

“Wives always believe that their husbands love them, their daughters are virgins, and their sons aren’t in the basement building pipe bombs,” says high school junior Melissa (Lauren Birkell) with a note of worldliness she’s recently earned. Her best friend and recent employer Shirley (Katherine Waterston), a shy, lanky geek, has stumbled into running a prostitution ring. The premise is outlandish but just barely believable as Shirley’s tense rides home with the totally crushable Mr. Beltran (John Leguizamo, introduced in slo-mo), whose two sons she babysits on the regular, have escalated into a fumbling first kiss, sweet first screw, and regular affair, punctuated by him pressing cash into her hand. Leguizamo unloads his guilt on lecherous best mate (Andy Comeau) and soon all the fathers in the neighborhood are mysteriously eager to arrange babysitting nights with the new childcare service in town. 

Writer-director David Ross’s script is titillating but smart. The sex is tentative, then rote; the classmates Shirley recruits to meet demand are natural teen girls in more ways than their bust size. Beyond the cynical Melissa, Shirley takes in passive blonde Brenda (Louisa Krause), and later—and with trepidation—Brenda’s more popular sister Nadine (Halley Wegryn Gross) who resents Shirley’s 20% take and tries to usurp business with her hotter friends. (But Shirley is OCD enough to keep a bitch down, snarling “You fuck no one—not even your prom date—without my say so.” 

Ross’s approach has the men bear the burden of guilt. Ariel Levy’s recent nonfiction book Female Chauvinist Pigs argued that this recent generation of girls has found empowerment on the stripper pole, and while Shirley and friends would call that a crock—they’re saving for college—the film allows the girls at least three-quarters of a movie to walk around school with their shoulders back and an indefinable glow. There’s peril, but no shame. And some of their customers are awkward enough that we’re able to believe the girls are in control, or at least aware that they’re the highlight of the men’s week. When they have sex, we just know these dolts keep their tube socks on. The wives Melissa blames for allowing the whole economy to grow are represented by Cynthia Nixon, who however improbably paired with hubby Leguizamo manages to be empathetic yet nurturing and emasculating enough that we’d consider pulling a Jude Law too. Excepting Shirley’s husky, overdone narration and Ross’ big thematic reveal that in the suburbs, we’re all just putting our best face forward (has that been revelatory since 1970?), this is an understated and engrossing drama not above a moment’s worth of wry comedy, as when Shirley tries to break up with a customer by pricing him out.



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