Jack “American Gigolo” bumps up against “sex, lies, and videotape” in “Intimate With a Stranger,” a generally compelling relationships movie about a burned-out Santa Monica gigolo and his clients. With its strongly written, truthful female characters, this first feature by Brit helmer Mel Woods could attract a solid following among upscale urban women, given careful handling. Those expecting a grindfest will tune out early on.
Main character is Jack (producer/co-scripter Roderick Mangin-Turner), who looks like a beefy, long-haired biker but is actually a dropped-out college prof who’s built a lucrative sack business servicing uptight femmes. In private, however, he’s living life out of the bottom of a bottle, still scorched by former g.f. Michelle (Daphne Nayar). He now keeps his relationships with the opposite sex “strictly business.”
Though Jack is technically the central character, the movie is a showcase for a string of terrific female thumbnails, ranging from a tough career type (Ellenor Wilkinson) who starts by giving Jack a hard time, through a teen virgin (Janis Lee) who wants to kick off her sex life in style, to a Jewish wife (Amy Tolsky) whose marriage is low on mattress activity.
After an opening that shows Jack cruising around Santa Monica on his bike, rest of the pic boils down to a series of one-to-one encounters in his small apartment, with each section prefaced by a straight-to-camera confessional by a woman whose hang-up echoes that of the next featured player. Though there’s adefinite legit feel to the movie, script is an original by Mangin-Turner and director Woods.
Opening session, between Jack and virgin Summer, sets the tone for subsequent segments, with the women getting the bulk of the dialogue as they work out their frustrations and needs and Jack gently coaxing from the sidelines. Though the dialogue’s occasionally raw, sex content is relatively small, nudity discreet. Woods also has a habit of keeping the camera tight on the characters, with long shots reserved for later in an episode.
Running through the pic is the parallel story of Jack’s new understanding with former g.f. Michelle, who pops by for talk sessions from time to time and provides a focus for his own struggle to carve out a real life. Happy ending, with Jack ditching his drinking habit and address book, is one of the few too-easy notes in a movie that mostly steers clear of the expected.
Performances by the women are strong down the line, headed by a wonderfully sad-comic and sexy perf by Tolsky as the bruised wife. Lee is also excellent in the tricky part of the California teen, and Wilkinson aces as the hardened career woman. Nayar brings a quiet sophistication to the part of Michelle, and the four unnamed, confessional-to-camera women hew sharply defined characters with economy and precision.
As Jack, Mangin-Turner both looks and sounds the part, despite being Brit to the core. But in solo scenes and more emotional sessions, he’s less natural than his surrounding distaff players.
Tech credits are fine, with sharp lensing by Nicholas Tebbet and clean cutting by Brian Smedley-Aston. Only glitch is an uneven soundtrack, with over-intrusive background noise and occasional dropout in Mangin-Turner’s lines. Interiors were all shot at the U.K.’s Shepperton Studios, and the posted $ 1.5 million budget, raised by Mangin-Turner and Woods from British and U.S. sources, is well spent.