New Orleans, 1981. Sonny Phillips, just discharged from the Army, returns home. The only life he's known is as a gigolo, working for his mother, but he wants to leave that behind. However, the job his Army buddy promised doesn't materialize, and he turns back to the trade, working with a beautiful young whore called Carol, whom his mother has installed in his bedroom while he's gone. Then he is forced by love to choose between the hard life he knows and the dream of having a normal, "respectable" life.
This story of abandoned hopes and missed possibilities is sometimes melodramatically over the top, occasionally moodily understated. One minute it's an art film, the next a soap opera shot with missing lights. At times acting seems forced, at others almost too lifelike. The wordy script (by John Carlen) doesn't always sound natural. Nicolas Cage is heavy-handed on the tears, with the actors bursting into sobbing, shouting and screaming and throwing their toys so often that you're exhausted by the time the lights go up. The stylistic see-saw doesn't work, but doesn't make the movie worthless either.
Sonny is set in New Orleans. The setting adds a rough romantic depth, but there little fun in it. Even the trail of humour that makes the sadness bearable is bitterly hard to swallow.
What will keep you glued to your seat, though, is the genuinely brilliant and sustained sexual charge. It stars the knee-melting James Franco (who spends a lot of time naked) and blue eyed blonde angel with broken wings Mena Suvari as the ill fated lovers. Together, they miraculously avoid cliche in the perfectly timed lovemaking scenes. You'll feel almost that you're intruding.
In fact, as much as it hooks you, as sexual as it is, even the sex is not about uncomplicated pleasure. It's explored as both an expression of love and as something that can be bought and sold, but not the way just anything can. Intimate moments are infused with a sense of danger. A deeply felt sexual humiliation pervades the film. Sonny does his job so well that he sometimes gives something awfully personal to his clients.
The ideas behind the movie are strong, and it's very entertaining in a bittersweet way. Unfortunately - because of its ragged execution - you are continually reminded that you're watching a film. A bit smoother would have been a lot more seductive.
- Jean Barker
What other critics are saying:
"Keep your day job, Nicolas Cage. This shockingly inept directorial debut reveals the brooding actor to be a hackneyed helmer."- E! Online"There's too much forced drama in this wildly uneven movie, about a young man's battle with his inescapable past and uncertain future in a very shapable but largely unfulfilling present."- Brent Simon, Entertainment Today"Earnest and tentative even when it aims to shock."- A.O. Scott, New York Times
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