9 July 2007 | umpireplb
when sex and brains really do mix...
"Slippery Slope" is a rarity among films these days: a totally character- and story-driven exercise in cinematic understanding of human nature and the unfathomable forces that compel human beings to both deceive and trust one another, often at the same time. Everything about it clicks: the script, the dialogue, the sets, the affectionate, careful development of each character no matter how minor, and the sense of delight it conveys at adding a brave new element to the discussion of female empowerment and pornography, which as "Slippery Slope" conveys with wit and depth, are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Not anymore, anyway, and certainly not after viewing director and writer Sarah Schenck's gem of a film. Schenck's attention to detail is note-perfect and provides many moments of recognition and laughter, from the scrubbed-off remnants of one of those dreaded yellow parking stickers on the car of the husband, marvelously portrayed by Jim True-Frost, as he drives off to confront his wife whom he suspects of conducting an affair at a Long Island motel but who in reality is directing a porn movie she doesn't want him to know about, to the made-up names of the "classics" she has re-worked to make them palatable for porn audiences, in which Shakespeare's "Tempest" becomes "The Temptress" and Dickens' "Hard Times" becomes "Really Hard Times." In particular, the delineation of Gillian, the female protagonist, resonates powerfully as she evolves from a struggling, out-of-work auteur into a more liberated, honest, loving (and solvent) version of herself. Even the title of the film's primary device, "Feminism For Dummies," a film she has completed but cannot retrieve from the lab because she lacks the funds to pay for it, is a double-edged entendre with multiple layers of meaning that Schenck is wise enough to leave open to interpretation by her viewers. She does not play down to her audience even though the subject matter itself may seem to call out for such condescension, but rather uses her talents to explore the tensions inherent in the many situations that arise as a result of Gillian's double life and the deception she perpetrates on her husband out of - shame? Respect for his "purity"? Artistic duplicity? All are elements shaping her decision to enter the strange, staged world of pornography, but Schenck leaves it up to the audience to decide which ones matter and which don't, a mark of esteem for her viewers woefully lacking in too many modern filmmakers' "hit-'em-over-the-head-with-a-sledgehammer" school of cinematic indulgence. My lone criticism of "Slippery Slope" stems not from any significant component of its script, direction, or production values, but from one scene and one scene only that takes place on a New York street when Gillian, serendipitously encounters an actor who appeared in her documentary but has since shifted over to the less reputable but more remunerative realm of pornography (and New York pornography at that, which has its own unique sensibilities setting it apart from L.A. pornography, as any New Yorker knows...) The dialogue during this scene is unfortunately drowned out by the verities of New York street noise, and it was difficult to make out what was being said by the actors as they walk down the sidewalk discussing the way their lives have changed, or not, since the completion of "Feminism For Dummies." (One of my favorite exchanges in the movie occurs during this scene and happily, I caught it: "...Porn makes ten billion bucks a year, same as Hollywood." Reply: "That just says there's a big audience for showing women as nothing more than a support system for a vagina and breasts.")
There are no conflagrations other than those of the emotional kind; no car chases other than when the husband roars off in his dilapidated clunker to "catch" his wife in the act; no special effects except for a sweet, funny scene that uses plastic dolls to represent the action in the porn film she is writing - on a deadline, no less! - and no loud, obtrusive soundtrack to distract viewers from the important elements that make this film so special and unique. There is only a great story, fabulous script, authentic acting (and don't think "acting" the part of a porn actor doesn't require its own special skill set, which the four "porn" actors all employ wonderfully,) a delightful surprise ending, and an overarching message that in Schenck's more than capable hands, becomes a path to both enlightenment and hilarity.