Addicted (dir. Billie Woodruff)

Posted: October 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

I’m obviously not the intended audience for “Addicted”, a supposedly erotic film based (very loosely, I’ve read) on a novel by Zane, who started out self-publishing erotic fiction aimed at a female African-American audience and was later picked up by a real publisher to fill the gap in novels aimed at an urban audience.  Zane is now apparently being sought after by the state of Maryland for back taxes, so I guess she’s making a decent living off of being a writer now.  There is nothing in the film “Addicted” to indicate the woman’s appeal.  The film starts off as a typical soft-core story aimed at a female audience, in this specific case a black female audience, before attempting to be at different times a horror movie, a morality play, and a relationship drama.

It succeeds at nothing, except perhaps fetishizing an affluent lifestyle.  The film has an adequate number of the requisite sex scenes required in a film of this nature, but the film’s real eroticism comes from the main character’s wealth on display.  Mercedes, Range Rovers, Jimmy Choo shoes, and opulent homes with marble kitchens are just some of the touches used to show that our main character, Zoe (an overacting Sharon Leal) is rich out the ass.  Much like how the old television show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” was watched by the poor to vicariously imagine life as a rich person, this film is more concerned with having the audience wish they lived in the main character’s house than fuck who she fucks.  “Addicted” may be a poor film in many respects, but the sets and props are legitimately pretty awesome, if perhaps a tad cold.  Judging by the recent trailer for the “Fifty Shades of Gray” film, which looks like someone tried to remake “American Psycho” as a romance, cold is in these days in our erotic films.  I never thought I’d long for the humid 80s kitsch of a “Nine and a Half Weeks” over the stainless steel and antiseptic whiteness of today’s theatrical soft-core fantasies.

Zoe is married to a wealthy and handsome architect named Jason (Boris Kodjoe), and has only ever slept with him.  They have two kids and live in a ridiculously pretty house with Zoe’s mother (Maria Howell, who looks about as old as Zoe and is only aged up with a bad wig and some crow’s feet eye make-up, making it weird that the film has to literally put knitting needles into her hands to make us think she is old enough to be the protagonist’s mother), but her Jason fails to make Zoe cum, even when they have sex two times in one night.  The film clearly finds men’s asses sexy from the side and when they are half-way peeking out of pants, because that accounts for most of the film’s nudity, unless you are counting the V-neck shirts every love/sex interest is required to wear at least once in the film.  I don’t know if side-butt and V-necks are sexy to all black women, but they certainly are to this film.  What isn’t sexy? Naked black breasts, otherwise the film would show us Zoe’s.  Perhaps the black female audience would be turned off by that because some will inevitably drag their men to the movie, and the film would alienate its fanbase if their partners were getting aroused by the onscreen breasts? A theory, as the only fully naked breasts we see in the film are random white women in a swinger’s club.  Don’t worry, I’ll get to that.

So yes, Zoe is unsatisfied and masturbates with a hilariously colored dildo to porn as her husband rests soundly after a night of working hard to provide for his family.  The bastard!  What’s worse is the film portraying the masturbation as both normal (as opposed to the sad, compulsive, and truly addictive depiction of pornography masturbation in the infinitely better film “Don Jon”) but also as secret and wrong.  Later in the film, when Zoe improbably lies flat on her back atop her work desk to masturbate, it is so weird, unlikely, and awkward that the audience in the theater laughed heartily.  The film seems to want to embarrass her for doing something that is common and healthy, but whatever.

Her unsatisfying sex life, despite the great house, nice family, and a husband who loves her (though the film does little to show why he loves her, or why she loves him), leads Zoe into the arms of Quinton (William Levy), a Spanish painter who she initially tries to rope in as a client for the company she runs, which seems to be some sort of manager for artists that helps license their work on consumer products.  Upon their initial meeting Quinton comes on ridiculously strong, and in no time he’s kinda-sort “Blurred Lines”-ing it and performing a quasi-rap-cunnilingus on her.  The film allows Zoe to fall into a pattern of saying no or being reluctant, Quinton cajoling her into sex which she inevitably enjoys, and then repeating this over and over.  The weird rape-y nature of their relationship casts a dirty layer on their whole relationship, which seems to last at least 6 months.

Later, after catching Quinton having sex with a woman who seems to hang around him for no reason, Diamond (Kat Graham), whom Zoe meets early on yet never questions Quinton about until catching them in the act, she goes out to a nightclub and bangs another hot guy (Tyson Beckford) in the bathroom, in a weirdly shot (from too far away) and decidedly unsexy scene.  Later, he takes her to a swingers club, which seems like a weird mix between a BDSM place (with ball-gags and whips and mesh), “Cruising” (oh so much leather), and “Eyes Wide Shut” (feathered Venetian masks?).  The scene is also shot with frames removed to speed up the action, and Zoe imbibes what appears to be ecstasy openly at the club while consuming champagne.  Aside from Zoe and the Beckford character, nearly everyone at the club is white, and the film seems to equate dangerous, deviant sexuality with Caucasian sexuality.

I haven’t even mentioned that the story uses therapy sessions as a frame device.  Zoe has a therapist (Tasha Smith, who cannot act at all.  To say her dialogue delivery is wooden would be an insult to the world’s trees).  The film tells us she’s a therapist, otherwise we wouldn’t know because all she really does is ask Zoe “How does that make you feel?”, presumably because the screenwriters have never been to therapy and think that’s all therapists ask, and tells Zoe repeatedly that she’s a sex addict.  I don’t know.  Having sex with two people outside of your marriage and masturbating doesn’t seem to make you a sex addict.  In “Choke”, a comedy about sex addiction based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, there are characters so in need of sexual release that they put peanut butter on their private parts to get dogs to pleasure them, and swallow so much semen they need their stomachs pumped.  Zoe doesn’t seem that bad, all things considered.  She has some risky, extramarital sex, but if that’s the definition of a sex addict, then my guess is so many people fall into those categories that the label would become meaningless.  This is really just another way for the film to be sex-negative and judge Zoe for her actions.  I’m not saying the film needs to endorse adultery, but to tack a supposed mental illness on her for her actions reeks of a level of shame the film doesn’t need to add on top of, say, the fact that her business starts crumbling and her kids begin to hate her for missing their soccer matches.

It’s odd.  In many films like this the female audience member is supposed to identify and live vicariously through the sexual escapades of the protagonist.  This film mainly aims for the audience to live vicariously through the protagonist’s affluent lifestyle, but then to morally judge and feel superior toward the character w/r/t her sex life.  I don’t know if this is something particular to black erotica or if this is a new movement in the genre itself, but it is disconcerting.  The audience is obviously interested in the material for their own prurient interests, to be turned on, so to then be allowed to judge and feel superior to the character engaging in the material causing your arousal seems hypocritical and shitty.

Not to mention *SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO CARE* the film “explains” Zoe’s “addiction” by revealing she was gangraped at the age of 10 by three boys.  Yes!  Of course!  Because no woman would ever have sexual desire if she hadn’t been abused! Wait. What?  Also, the film really goes overboard on trying to punish Zoe.  Quinton turns from quasi-rape-y sex partner to a slasher who attempts to murder Zoe.  The Beckford character at one point tries to mail Zoe’s panties to her husband as punishment for not seeing him.  The film never explains how he knows where she lives, or how she knows where he lives, when all they did was briefly hook up in a bathroom.  Oh, and later Zoe walks into traffic when her husband discovers everything and threatens to leave her.  Jeez.  The woman just wanted to orgasm.  Is that so wrong?  The film also shows that she tries to get her husband to work with her. She asks him to go to couples therapy, but he flat out refuses.  Later, she wants him to fuck her on the living room floor, and he’s downright offended at the suggestion. So really Zoe tries to get her husband to sexually please her, showing that adultery is not the real issue, it is female sexual desire that is to be derided.

Putting that ethically disgusting message aside, and what it may say about both the author and the intended audiences’ view on female sexuality generally and African-American female sexuality in particular, the film is often times a silly mess.  Take a scene where Quinton has mailed Jason a sculpture he has made, after Jason, not knowing the artists is doing his wife, compliments the piece while visiting Quinton’s home on business.  Jason takes the sculpture in his hand and comments something along the lines of “This is heavy.  It must be worth a lot.”  Apparently the film thinks artwork is priced by weight.  We all know the Mona Lisa weighs 1,000 pounds.  Later, when Quinton smashes a glass object (I think a vase) over the Beckford character’s head, and later Jason uses the sculpture to club Quinton over the head with the sculpture, I was reminded of the 2002 erotic film “Unfaithful”, which starred Diane Lane as a woman cheating on her husband with a French used book seller.  In that film, the husband, played by Richard Gere, smashes the Frenchman over the head with a giant snowglobe, killing the man.  The snowglobe was an important memento in the marriage, making that scene doubly powerful.  I imagine the makers of “Addicted” have seen “Unfaithful”, took out the pathos, and doubled the smashing over the head with blunt objects bit because, hey, two is better than one, and who cares if we missed the point in that original film?

Oh, and the film gives us Quinton’s backstory.  His mother stepped on him and his father, leading his dad to commit suicide.  Gee, given how his mother cheated on his dad and caused his family’s destruction, of course he’d have no problem raping a woman into an affair. Wait, what?  The film lets us see a mural he’s painted of the family he wishes he’d had as a child, a move usually made by a film so the audience can sympathize with the cuckolder.  Instead, the film later decides to make him a possible serial killer. O….k?

Look, I’ve seen my share of erotic films aimed at a predominantly female audience; the aforementioned “Nine and a Half Weeks” and “Unfaithful”, “Wild Orchid”, “Two Moon Junction”, etc.  Most have some element of silliness, but the quality goes up and down depending on the very subjective criteria of what turns you as an audience member on combined with the slightly less subjective criteria of what one sees as good production values, acting, and a script.  “Addiction” seesaws up and down from having a repugnant message to being unintentionally funny nonsense.  The production values are a mixed bag.  The acting is not uniformly bad, but merely overacted, like stage actors playing to the back row rather than the more naturalistic acting needed for film.  The set design and lighting is usually up to par, and V-necks aside the costuming is nice (Zoe spends a lot of the movie walking around in really nice coats, but she also inexplicable wears garters to work almost every day). Honestly, the movie is more polished than, say, the recent “Left Behind” remake (though both films feature horrendous child acting), but is only slightly less silly.

I don’t know if the intended audience will like this film, and it may be judgmental to say I know better than they do about what they should like, but an African-American female audience deserves better erotica than this.  They deserve sex positive, non-silly erotica that doesn’t punish a woman for her desires and doesn’t devolve into a slasher movie for 15 minutes.  Oh, and why at the end does the mother mention God forgiving Zoe, and why is there a Jesus portrait in the Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting? I’ve seen some Urban Erotic Fiction books in the bookstore, and I’ve always found it odd that the authors have very long acknowledgements sections at the beginning of the books where they thank God and/or Jesus first and capitalize pronouns referring to them, even when the book that follows features women dripping nacho cheese on a man’s erect penis before fellating it, which we all know Jesus was all about.  I believe in the separation of church and erotica, thank you. D+

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