October 22, 1999
by Jennifer Ackles
A sexy, often funny look at dating in the `90s, Body Shots, the new film directed by Tony-award-winning playwright Michael Cristofer, is definitely not a good "date movie". Dark and unsettling, anxious and occasionally violent, Body Shots' careful portrait of lonely people presents interesting themes, but is also a sure-fire recipe for deflating romantic dreams.
While the advertisements suggest that Body Shots "defines a decade," it actually focuses on a very narrow subculture of our times: twenty-something party kids in Los Angeles. Most of the action occurs one night in the lives of four Cosmo girls and four Details guys, drunken white club-goers with fake breasts and expensive suits. Each is, to a varying degree, beautiful, rich and above all, lonely.
Most exciting about this film is the depth and insight with which these seemingly superficial lives are presented. The ensemble cast of mostly unknowns (the most famous is Jerry O'Connell of TV's Sliders) creates memorable, believable and empathetic, though not actually likable, characters. From a man desperate for affection to a woman whose nightmare is that "he'll still be here in the morning," each of the eight is a distinct and well developed person.
Probably much of the emphasis on acting can be credited to the director's background in theater, a bias which may also be responsible for the film's slow pace and reliance on monologues. Surprisingly, the lovely visual style of the film gives impact to the usually heavy-handed technique of characters directly addressing the camera. Rather than depending on monologues to convey what the actors' interactions can't, Body Shots strengthens and refines the undercurrents of insecurity, fantasy and disillusion as characters expound to the audience on intimacy, love and sex.
Mostly sex. Funny sex, scary sex, nonchalant sex, sex that is passionate, embarrassing or violent, in all forms sex is the central topic of the film. Yet, in spite of all the sex and sex talk, meaningful sex is conspicuously absent. For all their jaded affectations and evident disillusionment, the characters remain vulnerable and lonely, not quite cynical enough to abandon their individual dreams of love and happiness.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers do not trust the power of this fascinating conflict. Rather than allowing the drama of these opposing emotions to carry the film, they create a "date rape" accusation as the crisis around which the characters' actions and emotions pivot. While well and tastefully presented (the consensual version is sexier than the forced one), the whole situation feels too bulky, too melodramatic for the subtle emotions of the film. The issues of fear, gender and trust raised by this crisis are interesting, but would be better explored in less contrived manner.
The focus on "date rape" does very effectively heighten the discomfort and anxiety of the audience. By presenting such an unsettling vision of contemporary relationships, Body Shots admirably opens up the lives of these characters and leaves us, the audience, hoping we are nothing like them.