|Cherry (Ashley Hinshaw) and Frances (James Franco) look for love in the world of XXX.|
Directed by Stephen Elliott
Written by Stephen Elliott and Lorelei Lee
Starring Ashley Hinshaw, James Franco, Heather Graham, Dev Patel, and Lily Taylor
There was a time in the porn industry, about 25 years ago, when people spoke of X-rated films that had “crossover potential.” I discuss this phenomenon at some length in my book Beaver Street, in a scene where I’m asked to play a “nerdy file clerk” in Tickled Pink, which I describe as “a screwball comedy with hardcore sex.” This is a historic film, I’m told, because, “never before had a porn movie employed fourteen paid extras in one non-sex scene.”
Tickled Pink, like a lot of other pornos produced in this brief “Golden Age,” had “upscale production values,” a quality soundtrack, “performers who could act and fuck,” and a well-plotted script written by a smart young director who just happened to be passing through smut on his way to respectability.
Tickled Pink never did crossover into the mainstream. Nor has any other porn flick. In fact, with the porn industry having degenerated into amateur exhibitionism on sites like YouPorn, and professional studs wired on Viagra engaging, as the inimitable adult-industry critic Gail Dines would put it, in “body-punishing sex” with a succession of anonymous starlets, the idea of crossover porno has been long forgotten.
Though it comes very close, About Cherry contains no hardcore sex and therefore cannot be called a crossover movie. It does, however, contain a lot of very explicit sex scenes, and is also the best and most realistic film about the porn industry I’ve seen since Boogie Nights. It’s certainly the best movie yet to be made about pornography in the 21st century, an age when the Internet has taken over and relegated what remains of the venerable “men’s magazine” industry to its deathbed.
This realism can be attributed to About Cherry’s co-writers, director Stephen Elliott, who has written extensively about sex, and Lorelei Lee, a porn star who plays a porn star in the film. Obviously, they both know the business, and their insider knowledge and experience comes across in such scenes as when Angelina aka Cherry, played by the gorgeous young actress Ashley Hinshaw, is interviewed by a porn production company before they hire her to make videos.
Realistically depicted, as well, is the arc of a porn star’s career—single-girl still shoot/single-girl video/two-girl video/boy-girl video—as is the nature of a porn star’s romantic relationship. Cherry begins dating Frances (James Franco), a wealthy coke-addict attorney who doesn’t hesitate to tell her what he thinks of her job: “It’s disgusting.”
The extraordinary ensemble of actors—notably Heather Graham as Margaret, Cherry’s lesbian mentor/director who’s dealing with a jealous girlfriend; Dev Patel as Andrew, Cherry’s supportive gay friend; and Lily Taylor as Phyllis, Cherry’s alcoholic mother—create a milieu of such verisimilitude it can, at times, border on queasy. But the porn industry can, indeed, be a very queasy place.
The plot is basic: Cherry, a high school student, runs away from her dysfunctional family and sleazy boyfriend, Bobby (Jonny Weston), accompanied by Andrew. She winds up in San Francisco, needs a job, and after waitressing in a strip club, finds her way into porn. What’s different is that About Cherry, unlike, say, Boogie Nights, ends on a positive note, if not necessarily a happy one.
Guaranteed to piss off Gail Dines, and that’s a good thing.