A magnificently sexy young woman gives a tour of her world — the world of an international pornography star — in “This Girl’s Life,” the third feature by the monosyllabic multihyphenate Ash (“Pups,” “Bang”). However, there’s more to this film than just that tantalizing set-up. Pic’s unusual maturity in regard to sex (and its accompanying, matter-of-fact sex scenes) may be the movie’s death knell in some circles. (Pic seems sure to draw an NC-17 rating.) But “This Girl’s Life” merits the attention of the same unblinking distributors who’ve recently succeeded with considerably more explicit material (“Irreversible,” Catherine Breillat’s films).
Confidently made, with a minimum of the attention-getting sensationalism that characterized its writer-director’s prior films, pic may not be a complete success, but it is in some ways that rarest of commodities in American movies: It is a movie about sex and sexuality, in its many perversions and permutations, done without falling back on an exploitatively comic or violent scenario.
Juliette Marquis debuts in the highly demanding lead role and proves to be much more than just a physical knockout. With her sea-green eyes beneath dramatically arched brows, seductively purring voice and many dangerous curves, Marquis more than looks the part of Moon, the daughter of Russian immigrant parents and ascendant headliner in the San Fernando Valley-based porn industry.
On screen in nearly every scene, Marquis doesn’t hit a false note in her performance. Playing opposite real porn stars, she is so relaxed and unself-conscious that she just seems like one of the girl, sharing the pros’ unabashed, forthright attitude about the career they’ve chosen. Taking the form of a diary, with Moon sometimes talking directly into the camera, pic flashes back to Moon venturing for the first time into the offices of porn producer Aronson (“Gladiator’s” Tomas Arana), caring for her ailing father (James Woods), and beginning a a relationship with a non-industry boyfriend (Kip Pardue). Contrary to many post-“Boogie Nights” porn pics and docus, Moon is shown taking pleasure in what she does.
Like Ash’s other films, “This Girl’s Life” has a loosely structured, semi-improvisational feel; it’s less a straightforward narrative than an assembly of vaguely interconnected scenes. Not quite sure if it wants to be about the strained relationship between Moon and her dad or about Moon’s burgeoning desire to quit the porn scene, pic is held together — at least most of the time — by Marquis’ perf.
But what the movie lacks in consistency it makes up for in the strength of its performances and the indelibility of individual moments. Rosario Dawson turns in another fine performance as one of Moon’s outspoken friends. Michael Rapaport is lively and threatening as a used-car salesman (in a scene that’s like a parody of the “Psycho” car purchase scene). And Arana, as the impresario who nurses “his girls” with cocaine, steals every scene he’s in, turning a stock sleaze bag role into something more layered. Only Woods doesn’t convince as the father.
Shot by cinematographer Alessandro Zezza in stark Southern California daylight on 24-frame high-definition video, pic’s richly textured images serve as one more strong sell of this most film-like of video formats.