The Center of the World
Directed by Wayne Wang
Starring Peter Sarsgaard, Molly Parker
Computer geeks are notoriously bad with women. Richard Long (Sarsgaard) picks up a drummer/stripper named Florence (Parker) and offers her $10K for a wild weekend in Vegas. He’s got the bucks, as his B-to-B Internet IPO was taking off the week they wrote this script. Florence isn’t a real hooker, so she thinks, and insists on a contract: no mouth kissing, a separate room, no contact between 10 PM and 2 AM, no discussing “feelings,” and no penetration. “What do you mean, no penetration?,” says Richard. “Oh, well. I guess that’ll be fine.” See, he really IS a computer geek. So off they go to Sin City, and Florence does provide a good bit of entertainment, including the erotic makeup application scene. Clueless Richard is really a nice guy, even spotting Florence’s friend Jerry (Cadla Gugino) a few thousand when one of her johns beats her up for not having an orgasm correctly. Richard falls in love with Florence, but mostly because he’s lonely and horny and Florence is paying attention to him. She’s not ready to commit, and so goes back to drumming. And though we all know that love with a drummer is pointless love, Dick does get inside the pearly gates, at least once.
Director Wang went for a Not Rated listing with good reason. The sexual content of Center reminds you of the early post-Hayes days when directors were suddenly free of old Hollywood restrictions. Explicit sex became part of the story, as it so often is in our own lives. As time passed, filmmakers bifurcated, with the porn industry growing on one path, and more mainstream directors pulling back and towing the MPAA line. Wang shows female Tootsie Pop masturbation, long foreplay sequences, and Richard’s behind, all a long way beyond what even HBO allows. There’s no penetration or male genitalia, but the fiction of two people making love while fully clothed, long a staple of the softest core flicks, is lost.
The story is simple: Richard is lonely, well off, and has found someone he hopes might become his friend. Florence has other ideas, but for ten large, she’s willing to strip privately. She’s not exactly a whore, but she’s not doing it for the romance either. To her, it’s a job, and most jobs suck. The result is disturbing but not scary, sad but not tragic, erotic but not sexy. It’s really a sort of thinking man’s adult video store.