‘Promote/Purchase/Date’ Assessment: Meryl Streep EPs Confused Intercourse Work Documentary

Virtuosic performer Sarah Jones adapts her Off-Broadway present right into a frenetic hybrid doc that performs like a Vice particular with character work.

Attempt as she may to show her debut movie “Promote/Purchase/Date” has no agenda, that’s the one place Sarah Jones’ efficiency falters. From the various dynamic characters she performs, it’s clear the virtuosic performer and playwright can promote absolutely anything — besides neutrality. An enthralling onscreen presence whose diversified personas bustle with verve, Jones makes use of the contours of her one-woman present to discover her emotions concerning the intercourse trade with a faux-journalistic strategy. Although her spectacular character work and earnest strategy are endearing, the movie is a confused jumble of concepts that by no means comes collectively. Written and directed by Jones with a narrative help by David Goldblum, “Promote/Purchase/Date” performs like a Vice particular crossed with an Off-Broadway present. It might be harmful if it weren’t so ineffective.

Interviewing activists, porn stars, and the occasional superstar pal (Ilana Glazer, Bryan Cranston, and Rosario Dawson all present up), Jones enlists a random assortment of contacts to assist her understanding of the complicated subject, few of whom are consultants within the subject past their very own lived expertise. She purports to strategy the topic with an open thoughts whereas performing a mix of confused ignorance and maternalistic pity in the direction of intercourse staff. And although she must be applauded for interviewing loads of intercourse staff, the one interview topic allowed to say something considerably constructive about intercourse work is a male porn star. After an aimless jaunt via interviews that largely really feel staged (none of which include any concrete details or demonstrated analysis), she in the end lands at a adverse view of intercourse work that’s as mainstream as she makes it out to look radical.

Although it’s arduous to parse via the various half-baked narrative threads in “Promote/Purchase/Date,” the movie opens with an introduction of Sarah’s characters from her one-woman present. The movie is at its most enjoyable and impressed when Sarah interacts with these caricatures, which embrace a doddering Jewish bubbe, a gum-popping white feminist who’s pro-sex work, and a fast-talking Latina who isn’t. She’s additionally juggling a possible Hollywood deal to show her present right into a film, attempting to parse her emotions about intercourse work, and coping with unprocessed grief from the demise of her sister. Attempt as she may to jam these themes collectively, the haphazard execution makes them really feel like three distinctly separate concepts.

Regardless of Glazer’s assurance that “you possibly can’t symbolize all the pieces, you’re not a politician,” Jones feels confounded by the nuances. Is intercourse work empowerment or exploitation? “The true drawback is Sarah doesn’t know what she actually believes,” certainly one of her characters tells her, although she’s by no means convincingly swayed to strategy sexual autonomy as something apart from submission to patriarchy. Maybe it’s as a result of she by no means bothers to study or clarify the distinction between consensual intercourse work and intercourse trafficking, conflating the 2 all through the movie the identical means paternalistic lawmakers did after they handed FOSTA/SESTA, a 2018 invoice that precise intercourse staff universally opposed. (The movie makes no point out of the invoice.)

She largely listens when porn star and intimacy coordinator Lotus Lain says, “You’re an outsider, you’re what we name a civilian. You need to let intercourse staff communicate for themselves.” However she speaks volumes with the intercourse staff she chooses to listen to from. All through the movie, Jones is in frazzled dialog with an imaginary on-line mob of pro-sex work feminists threatening to cancel her for making the film. However Sarah’s white woman character, an apparent parody, is the one illustration for these concepts. Regardless of supposedly attending a convention about decriminalizing intercourse work, Jones by no means truly interviews any advocates for decriminalization.

Jones is at her most clear-headed when talking concerning the intersection of race and intercourse work, even when she paints all pro-sex work feminists as privileged white ladies. (With Meryl Streep and Abigail Disney as govt producers on the movie, this assertion doesn’t actually maintain up.) Although she makes use of interviews rather than numbers or analysis, the tales within the movie provide a bleak reminder of the intercourse trade’s inherent racism. A private revelation that her sister was participating in intercourse work earlier than her untimely demise reveals the place Jones’ ardour for the topic stems from. It’s additionally fairly damning proof of her blatant, if well-founded, bias. (She’s far much less introspective concerning the offscreen boyfriend who was paying her hire, by no means interrogating the truth that she will not be such a civilian in spite of everything.)

A rousing ultimate screed concerning the suffocating limitations hyper-sexualization locations on Black ladies holds among the movie’s most salient factors, providing a glimmer of how completely different the film may have been if she had simply spoken from her personal expertise. Jones clearly has priceless insights about being a Black lady in leisure and has the chops to inform a fascinating story. What any of that has to do with the intercourse trade is a complete thriller.

Grade: C-

“Promote/Purchase/Date” is in theaters now and can be obtainable on VOD on Tuesday, November 8.

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