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Girl 6

Review by Carrie Gorringe

   

Directed by Spike Lee.

Starring Theresa Randle, Spike Lee,
Isaiah Washington, Peter Berg.
Cameos by Madonna, John Turturro,
Quentin Tarantino, et al.

Screenplay by Suzan-Lori Parks.

What’s an ambitious, yet principled, actress (Randle) to do after she loses a major role, her agent and her acting coach in a very short time -- and all because of the nasty and ubiquitous intersection of sex and money (she wouldn’t show her breasts during a rehearsal, so she won’t get hired and won’t be paying anyone anytime soon)? Well, after a series of jobs too demeaning to be classified as merely "dead-end," she takes up a new position as content provider to a phone-sex line, playing out fantasies for whoever produces a credit-card number; if you have the money, she most definitely has the time. She is Girl Number Six, whose gamut of performances-for-pay range from the sweet girl next door to emotional crisis counselor.

But, in solving her financial woes, Girl Six -- the audience never learns her real identity -- discovers that there are unforeseen occupational hazards; like any other dealer in fantasy can, she succumbs to the temptation and becomes dangerously addicted to the product she pushes, to the detriment of her original career. First, she attempts to transcend the gap between fantasy and reality by agreeing to make personal contact with a customer, known as "Bob Regular" (Berg). When he fails to appear as scheduled, she sinks into a malaise, one which she attempts to cure by heading for the "harder" stuff: an S&M line whose motto is "No inhibitions" (as if to emphasize that fact, the owner of said services is played by Madonna, a.k.a. Our Lady of the Wholly Peusdo-Sexually-Transgressive). On top of all this, Girl Six’s ex-husband (Washington), an incorrigible klepto, wants to rediscover those old feeling that they once had for each other, especially after he finds out about the kinkier aspects of her current occupation. However, reality is about to take an unexpected turn; in crossing the line into more dangerous territory, Girl Six soon finds herself vulnerable to the unwelcome attentions of a most unpleasant individual, who not only has a penchant for "snuff" fantasies, but who also has her home address. Like Girl Six, the sociopath wants to turn his fantasies into reality by acting out on others, but his impulses are an uncomfortable reminder that sociopathy is a more literal -- and potentially deadly -- realm.

Girl 6 is at its best when it addresses the issue of technology and its intersection with the growing urge for instant gratification as a commodity without any corresponding obligation to respond to the outside world. After all, why go to all the bother of having to consider the feelings of another individual or wasting all of your valuable time on dating when you can just simply call up a sex line and get your rocks off as efficiently as possible? There are no emotional scenes, no chance for betrayal, and, best of all, as the consumer, you control the entire scenario. If you don’t like what you’re getting, it is a simple matter of changing girls or services. No personal engagement equals no risk, and that mindset extinguishes any regard for the humanity of individuals. In its first forty minutes, Girl 6 clearly and skillfully delineates how that belief system is not restricted to those who work in the phone-sex business (a sleazily hilarious cameo by director Tarentino as -- what else -- a sleazy director who has mistaken the prevalence of T&A in his films for personal significance is especially illustrative in this regard) .

However, Lee takes this promising premise, and the subtly sensual and luminous performance by Randle, and does absolutely nothing with them except to allow them to wander aimlessly through the final third of the film. As Lee and Parks see it, there are no additional psychological insights necessary for explaining why Girl Six goes overboard into her fantasy world, and the idea that this choice is merely a logical, if extreme, extension of her professional life is an inadequate one, since the first thirty minutes of Girl 6 make painfully clear the contrast between the fantasy world of show business and the painful realities of what one has to undergo in order to be permitted to construct those fantasies. The need for cash is not Girl Six’s only motivating factor, and some attempt to address the other causes might have made this film more compelling. As it stands, the half-hearted and last-minute attempt to save the film just doesn’t provide this film with an appropriate amount of saving grace; in fact, it only underscores the weakness of the previous material. Even Lee’s performance as Jimmy, the nice, if ineffectual friend of Girl Six who is encased in his own fantasy world of making it big from the proceeds of sports memorabilia, doesn’t provide the film with adequate underpinnings to overcome its lack of focus, proving thereby that no matter the extent of personal appearance, it cannot act as a substitute for a personal imprint.

A more fitting title for this film, rather than Girl 6, would be "Lee: 0 For 3." In the wake of realizing his magnificent vision of Malcolm X, Lee has made three films -- the other two being Crooklyn and Clockers -- which are, in substance, of little substance whatsoever; they seem to have been made through a fog of dissociation, in contrast to Lee’s earlier work, which bore as its hallmark a strong infusion of Lee’s own personality. Hence, the earlier films had a more coordinated feel, precisely because Lee’s unequivocal explorations of the injustices of life kept their narratives firmly on track, a trait which is sadly lacking in his most recent work. Naturally, Lee’s directorial, not to mention personal, evolution would entail some degree of withdrawl from this earlier intense, stance, but the post-Malcolm X work has created an impression that Lee’s talent is less in withdrawal than in full-scale retreat. One can only hope that this talented director will manage to reconnect more clearly with subsequent works.


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