|The Center of the World
dir Wayne Wang
scr Ellen Benjamin Wong
with Molly Parker, Peter Sarsgaard, Carla Gugino, Balthazar Getty, Jason McCabe Calcanis, Mel Gorham, Robert Lefkowitz, Kathy Florez, Shane Edelman, Jerry Sherman, Travis Miljan, Pat Morita
release US 20.Apr.01; UK 21.Sep.01
Artisan 01/US 1h26
Kind of an anti-Pretty Woman, this story about a prostitute and her wealthy client is full of Wayne Wang's subtle style combined with an edgy naturalism that's both effective and oddly alienating. Florence (Parker) is an L.A. lap dancer whisked off to Vegas by lonely but stinking rich computer nerd Richard (Sarsgaard) for a weekend during which Florence's strict rules must be followed. But Richard, it soon becomes clear, is falling in love with her ... and she feels the same, despite all the warning signs. The film chronicles their careful cat and mouse game, highlighting fears and doubts and trying to see the world from each of their perspectives as the film's title takes on various meanings--both profane and inane.
The natural rhythms of movement and speech make this feel like improv, while Wang uses quietly clever direction to give insight into thoughts and feelings. The result is slow, haunting and very intimate, with an overriding feeling of mystery--can we trust these people? Are they telling us (or each other) the truth? The performances are startlingly raw and emotional, and yet they're not entirely convincing. Parker is a bit too aloof and cold to let us really feel Florence's anguish, while Sarsgaard is slightly too shifty and goofy to get to the root of Richard's feelings. This leaves the film feeling very artificial, even though it looks like an up-close-and-very-personal documentary! Themes of trust, fantasy and identity are nicely examined, and Wong's script never takes an easy path through the material, but the film just never becomes much more than a sporadically involving experiment in acting, themes and gritty DV cinematography.
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