‘Pleasure’ Review: The Most Honest Film Anyone Has Made About the Modern Porn Industry

February 5, 2021 By admin 0
“At this moment in time, it is hard to find joy and beauty in things, and I really think that is important,” Emmy-winning actress Zendaya explains in an exclusive convo with her friend and Dune co-star, Timothée Chalamet. “Right now, we as Black people need to embrace joy and not let it be taken away from us.” The issue also has us thinking about the best ways to get through a socially distanced Canadian winter, from our relationships to our wardrobes. In a feature on pandemic dating, journalist Randi Bergman examines how singles – herself included – are still managing to find love these days (hint: it’s not online!); and puffers and trenches meet sweatbands and sneakers in our photo essay on sportswear style.

Self-care and a little winter indulgence are also front and centre as we unveil the winners of the 2021 ELLE International Beauty Awards. Our international editors’ top picks range from luxury fragrances to eco-friendly skincare. Plus, modern sex toys and the democratization of pleasure just in time for V-Day; Penelope Cruz on her beauty secrets; and a Montreal- and Toronto-based startup asks, “Is the wellness industry too white?”

The February/March issue of ELLE Canada hits stands across the country and Apple News+ on February 1, 2021.A husky-voiced Swedish Kesha look-alike lands at LAX and walks up to the customs booth wearing a furry, multi-colored jacket that screams “look at me!” while also whispering “but not too hard.” We already suspect that she’s a porn star, or at least in Los Angeles to become one — there has to be some reason why the opening credits were soundtracked by the unmistakable sounds of performative deep-throats and flesh T-boning against bare thighs — and so we’re in on the gag when the customs agent asks if our girl is in town for business or pleasure. She waits for a beat, and then responds with the naive smile of someone who doesn’t realize she might be giving the wrong answer: “Pleasure.”

Though never again posed in quite such obvious terms, some form of that question is at the heart of every scene in Ninja Thyberg’s debut feature of the same name, a slick if overly streamlined tale of one woman’s quest to fuck her way through the patriarchy and maybe even out the other side. But “Pleasure” — which is almost by default the most knowing and honest commercial film that’s been made about the modern American porn industry — is determined to avoid framing pleasure and business in binary terms.

Instead, Thyberg arranges those seemingly opposite forces into an equation of sorts, one through which young “Bella Cherry” (Swedish newcomer Sofia Kappel, supposedly the only member of the movie’s impressive cast who didn’t have some prior connection to the adult film world) will process all of her adventures in the San Fernando Valley as she tries to solve her own value without selling out her self-worth. The closer that Bella gets to the top of the mountain, the clearer she comes to understand that “business or pleasure?” is the black-or-white language of a world that wants certain people to think they can’t have both, and treats mixing the two as the ultimate taboo.

From her first POV shoot to a rough threesome that her agent won’t let her label as rape, and eventually her central role in what has to be cinema’s sweetest double-anal scene, each of Bella’s experiences push her toward questions that every starlet in the industry will have to answer for themselves at some point: Whose business is their pleasure, and whose pleasure is their business?

Which isn’t to suggest that Thyberg’s hyper-saturated whirlwind of hard dicks and bad dubstep is too high-minded to engage with porn at the more primitive level on which it tends to operate. For all of its appropriately naked thoughts about female agency in an industry that depends on the commodification of female bodies, “Pleasure” feels more like an NC-17 riff on “The Devil Wears Prada” than it does an unlubricated lecture about the inherent misogyny that keeps the masturbation business cranking along.

And while Thyberg’s clinical gaze regards her characters’ sexuality with all the enthusiasm of a vegan working at a slaughterhouse (our first glimpse of Keppel’s nude body is an extreme close-up of Bella slicing her skin open as she shaves her pubic area), the movie’s warmly sketched characters and broad country-girl-in-the-big-city plotting keep things as broad and plastic as the industry it caricatures.

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