The Center of the World
dir. Wayne Wang
Opens Fri May 18
Cinema 21

Close your eyes and allow yourself the most decadent film fantasy. The death of the Pepsi Girl, perhaps? Me, I'm imagining a day when I'll encounter porn that doesn't have close-ups of ass zits. Oh, but hold on--my fantasy gets better. This porn is made with truly sexy people instead of speed freaks and home video cameras. It's a film that has a real, live plot; the draw of the film is both sexual and emotional, so everyone in magical porn fantasyland watches the flick longer than the five minutes it takes for them to jerk off.

Sigh. Porn-plus-depth is so very rare, that any ounce of character development, plot, or even narrative in porn is really impressive. And in this respect, Center of the World is groundbreaking. Well okay, it's not exactly porn. There are some beaver shots--one especially memorable scene involves a stripper and a lollipop--and a lot of pretty explicit lap dances, yet no penetration or even any cock. But in this story, sex is everything. It's the plot, it's emotion, it's power, and most importantly, it's an honest study of the way sex and life work together.

Peter Sarsgaard plays Richard Longman, a charming computer geek/millionaire who has it for Florence (Molly Parker), who's a stripper by trade. After initially declining, Florence agrees to join Richard for a weekend in Vegas for $10,000. This premise becomes the defining question of the movie: Does she really like him, or is she just doing it for the money? Via some crafty slams to Pretty Woman and some really good acting, this question gets answered in the movie's climactic sex scene (um, I meant the movie's climax), and explores the extent to which it's possible to separate sex from emotions.

Because the film ends up focusing so much on this question, though, it falls just short of being as good a movie movie as it is a sex movie. That is to say, while the plot is engaging, it doesn't have a ton of integrity and is predictable because of its attempts to wrap things up too tightly. But as a hot movie with sexy scenes, beautiful people, and sly mind games? "Even if you hate it, you will still love it!" says one Center of the World-chatroom participant. How true that is.