A teen girl’s nervous desire to lose her virginity is cleverly framed within the Internet and digital video age in Antonio Campos’ debut feature, “Buy It Now.” Split in two sections — the first, in docu style, the second, as drama — pic’s dramatic half nabbed first prize in Cannes’ Cinefondation contest for short student films. Entire work, preemed at CineVegas, proves a fascinating experiment in telling a tale twice with distinct emotional effects, and pegs Campos as a talent on the rise. Fest and ultra-specialty cable biz should be brisk.
Campos opens the psycho-sexual adventure with an on-screen graphic that sets the faux-docu context, reporting that he met Chelsea (Chelsea Logan) at a party in 2004 and learned that she was doing a vid diary of the days leading up to and after losing her virginity. It’s what’s learned bit by bit in the diary itself that lays out pic’s casually shocking narrative, starting with Chelsea’s need to take anti-depressants, her feeling peer pressure to have sex by age 16, and her disturbing urge to cut herself with a razor blade.
Chelsea’s raw footage, which is not in typical diary chronological order, first focuses on her room which is stuffed with a teen girl’s bric-a-brac along with her computer. Her bold idea is to auction off her virginity on E-Bay for $1,500. Pal Stacy (Stacy Jordan) assures her that “sex is no big deal,” but with each day and as the hits on her page keep mounting, Chelsea grows tense and is unsure that she’s making a sound move.
One of pic’s several fascinations is that while the docu half cuts between Chelsea in her bedroom and Chelsea entering and settling into a non-descript motel room where she’s set to meet her buyer, the equally tense dramatic portion adopts a straight timeline, but with built-in aud awareness of Chelsea’s private feelings. Her diary pic, generally hand-held, shifts into hidden camera mode when she records the action in the motel room, while the dramatic portion keeps camera still, but with multiple split screen images which complicate our sense of point-of-view.
Both versions are discreet when it comes to Chelsea’s actual sexual encounter, with the docu section containing an on-screen message that shots have been deleted for “legal reasons,” and the drama section conveying her pain and pronounced lack of emotional pleasure.
Still, partner Peter (Chris McCann), though much older and automatically a bit creepy, is actually very considerate, softening what could have been a far worse — and extremely dangerous — situation.
Although bifurcated form may sound mannered, it’s remarkably successful in the playing, with the docu portion craftily denying information that’s later revealed in the dramatic half, and each resonantly echoing the other.
Logan more than meets the challenge of creating a double-layered perf that conveys rougher, more improvised reality at the start, and then gives way to a slightly (but not emphatically) theatrical approach that ends on a note of near-tragedy. McCann’s Peter conveys unexpected calm amid so much teenage stress and anxiety.
Rosemarie DeWitt plays Chelsea’s mom so differently in each version that many viewers will think two separate actors played the role.
Tech package is smooth and pleasing to the eye but still deliberately rough enough to trick unsuspecting viewers into thinking it is a real documentary. Pic belongs to a small group of works that simply couldn’t have been made before compact, pro-grade vid filmmaking.