sun 14/07/2024

PVT CHAT review - the cam girl who loved me | reviews, news & interviews

PVT CHAT review - the cam girl who loved me

PVT CHAT review - the cam girl who loved me

Be careful what you wish for virtually...

Remote control: Julia Fox as dominatrix Scarlet in 'PVT CHAT'

An initially off-putting erotic comedy thriller about the relationship between a webcam dominatrix, “Scarlet” (Julia Fox), and the Internet gambler, Jack (Peter Vack), who becomes obsessed with her, Ben Hozie’s sexually graphic PVT CHAT becomes increasingly resonant as it proceeds – and surprisin

gly endearing. 

While mistress and slave are stepping in and out of their roles, they forge a tender online connection from what Jack believes is a distance of 3,000 miles – he lives in downtown Manhattan, she works (she says) out of San Francisco, The interaction of these hustlers elicits unexpected decency – Jack decides to help his new handyman friend Will (Kevin Moccia) pay for his son’s first year in college – even as their rote porny collusion dwindles mid film.

It’s not PVT CHAT’s greasy nocturnal Manhattan or its enveloping tawdriness that make it hard to warm to; Martin Scorsese, Abel Ferrara and James Gray have, after all, richly plumbed the beauty of the city's lower depths, as noir directors like Jules Dassin and Samuel Fuller did before them. But the film is hamstrung by Hozie’s refusal to make either Jack, a gratingly effusive slacker, or Scarlet, the cynical panderer to his degradation fantasies, an identification figure.

It’s not that they’re amoral, it’s that as anti-heroes they’re uncool, though Fox (sensational in Benny and Josh Safdie’s 2019 Uncut Gems) can’t stop glimmers of her charisma penetrating the murk. Notwithstanding writer-director-cinematographer Hozie’s atmospheric wide-angle compositions (Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels was an influence) and affectingly cozy two-shots, there’s a deliberate crudeness to the movie – as if it’s parodying Ferrara’s work – that masks its intelligence. (Pictured below: Peter Vack as Jack)
PVT CHATPVT CHAT begins like one of the Paul Schrader-scripted “man in a room” films, including Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Bringing Out the Dead and Schrader’s own Light Sleeper and First Reformed. If Jack is unafflicted by the guilt that wracks Schrader's protagonists, his recognition that people seldom act selflessly indicate a yearning for salvation.

Financing his cam-girl addiction with his blackjack winnings, Jack is about to be evicted from his apartment by his landlord (Atticus Cain) for his late rent payments and is in hock to some low-level hoods. Jocular with Scarlet when not grovelling before her, he teases from her the information that she’s an aspiring artist, and once she starts showing him her abstract paintings they develop an intimacy.

Hozie’s off-handed storytelling is amusing, as when Jack introduces Will and his pugilistic sidekick Larry (Buddy Duress, from the Safdies' Good Time) to Scarlet during a session, and when Larry nearly wrecks a contemporary art exhibition showing the work of Jack's ex-girlfriend Emma (Nikki Belfiglio). When Emma brings Jack back to her apartment in an attempt to rekindle their romance, he unchivalrously sends her out to get wine, enabling him to hook up with Scarlet on Emma’s laptop. That’s nothing to what Scarlet later pulls on Jack. 

Unlike Jonathan Demme’s seriocomic neo-noir classic Something Wild, PVT CHAT doesn't suddenly slip its screwball leash to become frightening. Yet the two films are similar in the way they switch from the story of a man who naively thought he was in control to that of a woman who exudes sexual confidence but is under a lover's thumb. Scarlet has been cajoled by her weaselly boyfriend Duke (Keith Poulson) into pouring her earnings into the production of a misogynistic play he’s written about her life as a cam girl.

The play's not being mounted in San Francisco but in New York, where Scarlet cohabits with Duke. This should have been the film’s big reveal at the halfway mark, but only 20 minutes have passed when Jack, unseen by Scarlet, spots her on the street. His following her to Chinatown presages his stalking her to a despicably creepy degree. But Hozie is no more interested in passing judgment on his characters than he is in psychoanalysing them. 

As the leader of the New York art  punk band Bodega, Hozie excoriated the alienating effects of technology on its 2018 debut album Endless Scroll. If PVT CHAT has nothing startlingly original to add on the subject, it isn't toothless in its depiction of attractive late twentysomethings emotionally immobilised and financially endangered by digital enthraldom. They’re such children of mediated desire that their coming together, so to speak, in person is fraught. In her fleshy reality, Scarlet can't hope to excite Jack as she could when she was his fantasy persecutor. Happily, this as much a source of humour for them as it is for the viewer.

In her fleshy reality, Scarlet can't hope to excite Jack as she could when she was his fantasy persecutor


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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