1 November 2002 | Shiva-11
Rubbed the right way
By Greg Ursic
Everyone, whether they want to or not, remembers their first job: trying to figure out what to wear to the interview, being worried that you'd do the wrong thing or that someone would find out that you really had no clue as to what you were doing. Now imagine your stress level if you happen to be a bookworm, with limited social skills and your first job involves managing sex trade workers.
For Conrad - professional student and recent university grad - having a job has, up until recently, been a novel concept. Determined to learn all he can he decides that a great place to learn about business and develop his people skills is to manage a massage parlour. After all, how difficult could it be? All he has to do is answer the door, treat the customers nicely, and ensure that the women follow the rules. Unfortunately for Conrad, the women have other ideas, and in the battle between book smarts and street smarts, there are bound to be some nasty casualties.
Before I proceed, there's a dirty little secret that has to be revealed - this is a Canadian film. But put your fears to rest, this isn't some esoteric experimental bouncing handy cam feature that can only be understood by fine arts post docs. The title alone should be enough to pique people's interest and dispel anyone's notions of a stodgy boring film: the name refers to the service provided at the full-body massage parlours, or as it's known in the trade a "massage with a happy ending" (in this case a hand job).
Don McKellar, Canada's hardest-working actor, is brilliant as Conrad, deftly capturing the character's blunt shell-shocked naiveté both in speech and actions. Conrad is so clearly out of his element that it is painful to watch as he stumbles from one situation to the next, clearly unaware of what he's supposed to be doing. One of the film's funniest moments is a take on DeNiro's classic "You talking to me?" tough guy scene. McKellar (for whom the role was literally written) also manages to make Conrad's gradual transformation believable. The supporting cast also does a terrific job.
Tara Spencer-Nairn is commanding (think dominatrix) as Betty the brassy business savvy street-smart leader of the group. While we get to see her tough exterior (figuratively speaking), Betty's soft and silly sides also peek out. Lindy Booth's Lea defines quirky as the happy-go-lucky member of the group whose interest in the business is driven more by her desire to feel a "skinship" with the patrons rather than cash. And how can you not love a girl with a nipple fetish? The last member of the group is Cindy, the newcomer played with a fresh wide-eyed innocence by Kira Clavell. Rounding out the players is the collection of customers who infuse the film with ribald humor.
The interactions between the characters feel natural which is essential, given the comedic nature of the film - if the situations seem forced, they won't achieve the desired effect. Soo Lyu, the film's writer/director, achieved this through a well-written script and by allowing the actors leeway to improvise both on and off camera.
As most of the action happens indoors, you would be hard pressed to guess that this film was made on a limited budget: the production values are solid, the editing is tight, and the story is evenly paced. Add a lively soundtrack (with a touch of porno chic), punchy writing that flows well, interesting subject matter with a side of voyeurism, and you have the ingredients for a thoroughly enjoyable film.