Review: ‘Lucky Bastard’

Directed by Robert Nathan
Starring Betsy Rue, Don McManus, Jay Paulson and Catherine Annette

Now Playing in NYC at Cinema Village and Opening in LA on March 7 at Laemmle Noho 7

The found footage foray into the seedy yet decidedly unglamorous world of internet pornography ‘Lucky Bastard’ acts as a verbally vulgar addition to a micro-genre tailor made for the independent and budget-minded filmmaker. Seemingly proud to sport the otherwise financial death wish that is the NC-17 rating, ‘Lucky Bastard’ is not an unwavering and in your face graphic sex and violence exploitation film, but rather a making of style peer into an industry constantly forced into transition (theater – video – film – digital – HD and so on), as well as a critique of the socially forced origins by which many of its representatives are forced to abide to; frequently within capacity outside their own economic free will.

Lucky-Bastard-Poster‘Lucky Bastard’ largely centers its camera on prolific porn star (and single mother of two) Ashley Saint (Betsy Rue), as well Mike (Don McManus), owner of the Pornhub-style website rooted in amateur driven sadomasochistic and rape pornography “Lucky Bastard” and Dave G. (Jay Paulson), an unsuspecting user with a shifting origin story and winner of the “Lucky Bastard” contest promising no strings attached, albeit staged and filmed, sex with Ashley. Ashley originally dismisses the contest as nothing more than a gimmick, basing her feelings on past experiences (and the fact she does not partake in amateur or anal scenes), feeling as though Dave would inevitably leave humiliate. Nevertheless she ultimately agrees, putting on the necessary expressive combination representing sadness, defeat and financial necessity. As Dave increasingly finds himself a pawn in a commercial game for dollars and unique visitors, his personality gradually transforms from withdrawn and polite to violent and vengeful.

In addition to Ashley and Mike, the “Lucky Bastard” employs a small group of technical employees, as well as up and coming “talent” (cameraman, editors, production assistants, and an aspiring pornstar who doubles as all of the above) all going about business in a matter-of fact and nonchalant way; even top flight performer Ashley is accused of giving the “dead eye pornstar look” during a mid-scene closeup, showing the nature of work has turned into just that, work and nothing more. There was a time when Mike had “serious” artistic ambitions. By the other side of the coin, there was a time when Ashley was not a mother and professional but rather, an addict and underground sex worker. For all intents and purposes she is now living the straight and narrow life.

Though admittedly rough around the edges and with very little stylistic liberties taken (outside of its own meta presentation regarding the process of filming the filming process), ‘Lucky Bastard’succeeds as an effective look into traditional sub-culture gradually becoming better assimilated into mainstream necessity as result of economic hardship. As Ashley, Betsy Rue delivers a diverse and heartfelt performance, exhibiting an exposed fearlessness supplemented by a determined strength of will. Ashley Saint is a woman who has been, and will be, on the verge; continually teetering between past, present and future will, while searching deep within in order to find the necessary justifications for her own life and those embedded in the world around her.

The influence of ‘Boogie Nights’, Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterful look into the world of porn excess culture of its 1970-s artistic heyday, plays prominently in ‘Lucky Bastard’, particularly during the films build up.  Ashley, Mike and Co. begin their day extensively traversing the San Fernando Valley anticipating and engaging Dave’s arrival in a sequence reminiscent of that film’s foray into real world sex that ultimately ends with a severe beating at the feet of Rollergirl.  Additionally, the found footage approach has seen its fair share of representatives (some may to oversaturated levels, where ultimate quality is compromised for excessively noticeable budgetary limitations) from the good (‘The Blair Witch Project’, ‘End of Watch’, ‘Cloverfield’ to name a few) to the bad (let’s say ‘Paranormal Activity’ 2-6), yet (aside) from a handful of continuity issues born out of the approach, ‘Lucky Bastard’ does not feel forced in its execution, rather its stripped down approach coincides nicely with the stripped down emotions and bodies of the film.

Over its swift 90 minutes, ‘Lucky Bastard’ traverses multiple genres including drama, comedy, suspense and horror without dwelling for too long or too deep in any. Though violent in its sex (opening with an extended staged rape sequence, for example) and graphic in its language, the film’s commentary on a shared contemporary social experience is undeniable; a society where aggro-fetishization has not only found itself within mainstream culture, but is also as a reflection of the current nature of interpersonal intimacy and financial necessity.  By going “behind the scenes” of one the countries (née, world’s) largest and most lucrative industries, the film can be taken as a profane meditation on a sensationalized culture, sexual desire, the nature of commerce, and the performers we have all become as a result.

– Steve Rickinson


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