"Pleasure" an unflinching debut for performer and director
They always say, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” That might be true in any industry where there’s room for growth, and the same might go for the adult film industry, too. (The résumé might just look a bit filthier.) Ninja Thyberg's feature debut “Pleasure” has the blueprint of a familiar girl-with-big-dreams story but takes a complex and unflinching look at an up-and-comer in a workplace where consent is a tricky thing. It’s just like Nicolas Winding Refn’s beautifully bonkers “The Neon Demon,” only without, you know, the necrophilia and the eyeball eating.
Sofia Kappel makes her captivating debut as Linnéa (or Bella Cherry), a tatted 19-year-old Swede who arrives in Los Angeles for an “internship” but really there to make it in porn. She loves sex, and when the customs agent takes her passport and asks if the trip is for business or pleasure, she truthfully answers, “pleasure.” For lodging, she stays with three other performers at their agent’s model house and connects the most with Joy (Revika Anne Reustle), who’s a little more experienced but brash and belligerent. Bella also makes friends with a fellow actor named Bear (Chris Cock), who gives her helpful advice. At her first photoshoot, Bella is enamored by the detached Ava (Evelyn Claire) and decides she wants to leave her current agent Mike (Jason Toler) and become a “Spiegler Girl” for Mark Spiegler (playing himself), just like Ava. Since porn is such a competitive business, Bella realizes she needs to stand out and build up her brand with more credits, or the porn industry will just spit her out.
An expansion of writer-director Ninja Thyberg and co-writer Peter Modestij’s 2013 short film of the same name, “Pleasure” feels like a very frank behind-the-scenes depiction with more than enough specificity but just as much relatability to be one individual’s warts-and-all story. We all have a passion (hopefully), and we’ll do the work to make that passion a reality; Bella’s passion and work just happen to involve sex. The film very easily could have been a finger-wagging morality tale that judged Bella for her actions and her desires to succeed, but Thyberg and Modestij manage to make something surprisingly feminist — and even funny and sweet! Read the full review at Phindie.
NEON is releasing “Pleasure” (105 min.) in theaters on May 13, 2022.