Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
May 2, 2013
**1/2 (out of four)
To an extent, any look behind the scenes of the adult film industry carries with it a certain level of judgment. You don't often see a documentary about finance that asks white-collar types, “So, how did you wind up in a place like this ordinary office building?”
Obviously, acting in films whose names I can't print here involves a different routine than the usual 9-to-5. At the end of the day, though, it's both a cliche and a generally unrecognized fact that the men and, more lucratively, women with NSFW filmographies and typically alliterative names have families and histories and experiences that all humans have.
In “Aroused,” her documentary about gathering 16 current female adult film stars to shoot photos that revise how they're seen by the public, director Deborah Anderson doesn't overdo the US Weekly-esque notion of, “Porn stars—they're just like us!” She doesn't ask Jesse Jane, Kayden Kross or Belladonna about their feelings on traffic or calling the cable company. And while Anderson doesn't work especially hard to challenge her subjects—she doesn't gain insight from the stars after an adult film agent claims the actresses often need therapy and become their onscreen personas offscreen—she absolutely succeeds in framing them as people who are beautiful, rather than objects that are judged.
The film's more positive than the doc “After Porn Ends,” in which some former adult film stars express regret and a sense of feeling trapped by their choices. In “Aroused,” as the actresses lay in bed, posing and sharing occasionally perceptive nuggets about their general happiness and periodic dissatisfaction toward their work, only someone who comes to the film looking for the titillation it doesn't seek to deliver will see sexuality, rather than the intended sensuality.
It's tough not to wish Anderson, who fortunately moves away from initial, obvious statements about how sex sells, tried harder to get the full story. Allie Haze says she wants to be the best at what she does. How does she define that? Others talk about the challenge of maintaining the look necessary for the role and the disrespect that occurs when, say, people don't ask permission in advance to do something in a scene. In both cases, though, the discomfort on their faces is enough to linger.
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