The NC-17-rated Lucky Bastard uses the found footage gimmick to surprisingly strong effect, and it give a refreshingly frank view of the porn industry, but eventually steeps into moralizing and tut-tutting that left a very sour taste in my mouth.
The first half of Robert Nathan’s Lucky Bastard is actually quite good. At this point, I think we’ve all seen plenty of found footage movies, and while the gimmick can still work in many instances, it’s hard to do something original with it. Most found footage films typically employ a webcam/camcorder/security-cam aesthetic, making for grainy, quick-moving, handheld, and difficult-to-see visuals. The NC-17-rated Lucky Bastard is clearer and more bearable, in that it takes its visual cues (and premise) from a hidden-camera porn film. We start filming a porn, and then things go horribly awry. For the first time in a found footage film, we can see everything because in porn, well, everything is supposed to be seen.
The problem with Lucky Bastard, though, is not aesthetic. It’s its attitude. For a film that is so good about the real-life ins-and-outs (so to speak) of the adult entertainment industry, it’s ultimately a preachy and pandering film about the evils of porn. Its attitude can be summed up in a title scroll that reads, and I quote: “For too long, the adult entertainment industry has pushed the boundaries of not only obscenity but common sense. Those who play with fire… eventually get burned.” Really? We’re adopting an anti-porn stance in an era where anyone with genitals and a smartphone can potentially be a pornographer? Yes, porn, to this day, still has a color of human exploitation, and yes, the feminist issues involved in pornography are still a bit sticky, but the kind of cautionary moralizing that Lucky Bastard does is less an intellectual analysis of the ethics of the issue, and more a thunderingly blunt Chick tract.
Which is odd for a movie that seems to have the casual mechanics of porn so fairly presented. We see the industry’s big star, Ashley Saint (Betsy Rue) equally as an unobtainable sex goddess and a hard-working mother, bored blue collar working stiff, and put-upon career woman. She’s a complete human being. Y’know, like actual porn stars. The directors (led by the pretty good and prolific Don McManus from Grand Piano) are business-minded, and they understand the sleaziness, the hotness, and the hours of hard work that goes into making a salable product. Are they a bit cold? Isn’t everyone when they’re working on something they don’t want to be doing that day? For the first half, it’s natural and sex positive.
It’s when we meet the film’s eventual villain – a non-professional “lucky bastard” named Dave (Jay Paulson) selected to have sex with his favorite porn star – that the film begins to fall apart. Dave is a psychopath who is destined to murder other characters (not a spoiler: this is established in the prologue), and he plays like a psychopathic spirit of vengeance. He is disgusted with porn as much as he enjoys it, and its his own sexual insecurities (premature ejaculation!) that will set him off on his killing spree. This could have been a film about male sexual insecurities and sexual double standards – and those things are floating around in the moral bouillabaisse – but it seems to be looking down on porn as much as the hero.
By the end, when bullets are flying, people are getting raped (!), and the filmmakers are making us squirm – i.e. the ultimate function of the film – that we begin to feel disgusted. So much potential for a nuts-and-bolts analysis of porn, and we get cheap thrills.
Lucky Bastard‘s biggest saving grace is Betsy Rue. Rue is proving to be one of the best, gamest genre actresses working, and in Lucky Bastard, she brings a note of sensitivity, humanity, and courage to a role that could have been a boilerplate ditz or vengeful harpy. I first noticed her in the remake of My Bloody Valentine, wherein she managed to flee that film’s killer and evade capture for quite some time, all while entirely in the nude. She’s a good actress who is willing to take practical nudity to a logical extreme. She’s game, but also grounded. She seems to know what it means when a man points a camera at her nude body. She may be naked, but never looks exploited. I admire that kind of strength.
It’s well-shot, interesting, and has some good, realistic performances. Then, just like its hero, it climaxes too early, and the rest is downhill.