'Finding Bliss'

A semi-autobiographical tale of a film-school grad who lands an editing job at a porn studio.

The latest quirky indie romp from Julie Davis (“Amy’s Orgasm”), “Finding Bliss” recounts the semi-autobiographical tale of a young film-school grad who can’t break into the industry until she unwittingly lands an editing job at a porn studio. Leelee Sobieski makes for a suitable blank slate as Davis’ virginal Candide, wandering through an endless series of cutesy, naughty setups with wide-eyed astonishment, her unfortunate childhood spin-the-bottle experiences apparently having made her swear off sex for life. This mildly amusing, resolutely inoffensive outing lacks serious sexual tension — which might just make it a viable compromise date pick in limited release.

Emerging from film school as the winner of a gilded projector trophy, Jody Balaban (Sobieski) takes presenter Garry Marshall’s vague encouragement as a literal invitation to head off to Los Angeles and look him up, with predictable results. But Davis’ sendup of film-school pretensions and Hollywood hypocrisy comes off as a very pale imitation of Kevin Bacon and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s hilarious Tinseltown misadventures in “The Big Picture”; Davis doesn’t venture much further than sympathy-inducing frustration as Jody manages to lose the one directing job she nabs (director of traffic in a studio parking lot).

Jody accepts an editing gig at Grind Studios when she realizes she could clandestinely sneak into the porn factory’s soundstage at night to film her magnum opus. But keeping her day and night personae separate proves more difficult than she initially imagined. Jody’s up-close-and-personal relationship with the footage she’s editing begins to affect her psychologically, to the point where red-lipped, raven-haired star Bliss even seems to give her a wink.

The porn stars Jody runs into in various stages of undress (to her initial mortification) may not be the industry’s brightest bulbs, but they’re disarmingly sweet in their open enthusiasm for their work (Jamie Kennedy’s “Dick Harder” scoring as a randy nice guy fallen into dream employment). Soon Jody’s own film is peopled with earnest Grind moonlighters, intrigued by the idea of going legit.

The actors’ genuine puzzlement over Jody’s script and, especially, the motivation of its repressed, cockteasing heroine (a thinly disguised Jody alter ego) eventually leads Jody to rethink her views on relationships — particularly since the part is essayed in the film-within-a-film by a self-described virgin played by Denise Richards (a description not entirely oxymoronic, as “Bliss” holds a few surprises in store).

Helmer Davis’ overneat symmetry is such that Grind Studios enables Jody’s sexual maturation while, conversely, Jody brings some class to the adult shop’s productions, with closeups of faces as well as genitalia. Similarly, Davis deploys closeups here as she often has in her past films, usually measuring an absurdist beat as a character’s comprehension catches up with his or her circumstances.

Davis sustains a steady level of soft humor throughout, thanks to her heroine’s inexhaustible shockability and the palpable charm of the other thesps. As Grind’s production head, Kristen Johnston injects her wonderfully sardonic practical-mindedness with a touch of maternal amusement. And Davis’ peculiar notion of romantic-comedy resolution is not without its grotesque edge.

Tech credits are unexceptional, if a tad upscale for pic’s tacky premise.

Finding Bliss

Production

A Phase 4 release of a Lightshow Entertainment, North by Northwest Entertainment, Cinamour Entertainment, Jeff Rice Films production. Produced by Rice, David Ornston, Dan Toll, Richard Cowan. Executive producers, Nick Vetere, Brandon Nutt, Glen Hartford, Leelee Sobieski. Co-producers, Scott Mandell, Elizabeth Sobieski, Don Bloomfield. Directed, written by Julie Davis.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Peter N. Green; editors, David Beatty, Davis; music, John Swihart; production designer, Vincent DeFelice; art director, Jeffrey Reyes; costume designer, Lisa Caryl; sound (Dolby Digital/Dolby SR), Sam Hamer, Tom Taylor; supervising sound editor, Aaron Breeden; casting, Gretchen Oyster, Chadwick Struck. Reviewed at Magno Review 1, New York, May 20, 2010. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Leelee Sobieski, Matthew Davis, Denise Richards, Jamie Kennedy, Kristen Johnston, Donnamarie Recco, Mircea Monroe, P.J. Byrne, Garry Marshall.

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