Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have? The question serves as full-stop punctuation to Richard Glatzer and Wash West‘s film The Fluffer, a recent favorite on the festival circuit. In the movie — a coming-of-age tale tucked inside a story of romantic obsession set against a satire of the gay-porn industry — the Buzzcocks’ proto-punk classic “Ever Fallen in Love” blares over the closing credits, but it‘s a refrain that haunts the entire film. Sean (Michael Cunio), a small-town self-described “bisexual, I guess” boy, moves to L.A. hoping to conquer mainstream Hollywood, but instead he finds himself voluntarily ensnared in the drug- and psychoses-laden world of the sex industry.
After a screwup at the video store (he pops Citizen Kane in his VCR only to discover Citizen Cum) introduces Sean to the boy-on-boy filmography of gay-for-pay Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney), a smitten Sean seeks and gets a job at Men of Janus, a small gay-porn production outfit, in order to meet his idol. Almost immediately, he’s swept up in an alternate universe of world-weary strippers, droll dykes, crystal meth and Viagra, assembly-line sex flicks, dysfunction of every stripe, and emotionally fatal attractions. At the center of it all is Johnny (whose real name, Sean learns, is Mikey). Whether it‘s the heart of his dancer girlfriend Julie, a.k.a. Babylon (Roxanne Day, a kinder, gentler Debi Mazar), or the rose-tinted affections of Sean, Johnny’s self-destructive, woe-is-me narcissism and fiery temper leave a long trail of destruction. He‘s a real dream — not only dark and beautiful, but dim and aloof.
The somewhat misleading marketing for Fluffer (the title refers to the uncredited cocksuckers on hand during filming to keep porn actors hard) promises salaciousness and bare-assed sleaze, but co-directors West (who wrote the screenplay) and Glatzer (who also wrote and directed the wonderful, little-seen indie Grief) nod purposefully toward everything from Boogie Nights to Vertigo, Midnight Cowboy to Andre Techine’s Wild Reeds. Even Ovid‘s Metamorphoses is woven into their tale. As the film gently glides out of satire and into tightly reined melodrama, West (a real-life, award-winning director of such gay-porn titles as The Devil Is a Bottom and The Florida Erection) and Glatzer tackle the origins of desire, the creation of sexual identities and romantic ideals, the responsibility of the heartbroken for his or her plight — and that nebulous area where responsibility and blame just cannot be assigned. Saturated with deep, rich color and low-key visual wit, and graced with sympathetic performances, the movie’s point is clear: A century of feminism and almost five decades of queer political consciousness have rewritten the world yet done little to change the fact that most of us (men and women, gay and straight) are fluffers — on our knees, dick in mouth, enthralled by and servicing a crushing masculinity that inflames our libido but wounds our spirits. Simply getting up off your knees is a hero‘s journey.