Pleasure ★★★★½

Sundance 2021: Movie #18

"It feels good to say yes, right?"

What a bold, razor sharp look at consent. Pleasure presents a seemingly realistic and insightful look into the studio porn industry, building itself around frequent conversations about consent. Before any performer can participate in a shoot, they need to sign all the paperwork -- a legally binding "YES." Some sets are run with genuine respect and care, whereas others treat the performers like props that can be bent and broken however the director sees fit. It's said repeatedly throughout the film that a performer can change their mind at any point; it's never too late to say "no". However, everyone trying to make it in this industry knows it's not that simple. If you dare to say "no", what will it do to your career? Will these people ever work with you again? Will your agent be angry with you? Will you make enough money to survive that month? We always have the power to make choices, but that doesn't mean every "yes" is one said out of genuine enthusiasm.

Talk about a gripping character arc. Our lead sticks out like a sore thumb in this new world, and we can see how difficult it is for her to figure out the right path. She comes in with a clear idea of what her new life will be like, but she quickly realizes that she isn't the only one with a plan. It takes a lot of strength and cleverness to make it in an industry like this. There are countless performers who could be booked for a scene, so how do you make sure it's you? Her plan falls apart and swings in the complete opposite direction, often times being incredibly hard to watch. The film overall was less graphic than I expected, but a few key scenes are truly difficult. Still, even in said moments, we're so effectively kept in Bella's point of view that it's always about her character and not attempts at unnecessary sexualization. Her journey is a fascinating one, and I'll certainly be thinking about it for quite some time. Sex work is work, and if this is an at all accurate depiction of it, it looks really, really hard.

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