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CENTER OF THE WORLD, THE (director/writer: Wayne Wang; screenwriters: Miranda July/Ellen Benjamin Wong/Paul Auster/Siri Hustvedt; cinematographer: Mauro Fiore; editor: Lee Percy; cast: Peter Sarsgaard (Richard Longman), Molly Parker (Florence), Carla Gugino (Jerri), Balthazar Getty (Brian Pivano); Runtime: 86; Artisan Entertainment; 2001)
“Molly Parker is a terrific actress, who tries to make something out of nothing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

In Wayne Wang’s (“The JoyLuck Club“) somber and insidious all-digital soft-core porn flick The Center Of The World, the centers are a woman’s cunt and a man’s computer. Richard (Peter Sarsgaard) is a lonely, cyber-geek millionaire about to become a multi-millionaire, who purposely misses his company’s offering of an IPO and gives $10,000 to a hooker/lap dancer named Florence (Canadian star Molly Parker) he just met in a coffee shop to accompany him for an all-expenses three-day weekend trip to Las Vegas. The business savvy Florence lays down three rules that must be accepted before she agrees to the arrangement: 1) No talking about feelings. 2) No pissing in the mouth. 3) No sexual penetration. Both are good at their jobs and making their own rules, but cannot otherwise be bought. She will get you hot, but you can’t fuck her. He will create innovative products, but you can’t own him. Florence notes that the major difference between them is “money. You have it and I don’t.”

The film chronicles the fantasy date by watching them awkwardly check into the hotel’s luxury suite, of them taking a roller coaster amusement ride as something an ordinary couple might do on a date, of Richard in bouts of frustration and joy over just getting hand jobs, of Florence deciding he’s a nice guy and she might be able to bend the rules, and of Florence asking him for his secret fantasy — which he whispers in her ear. The high-brow slut and aspiring drummer informs him “The Chinese call that fire and ice.” It involves an ice cube rubbed on his body and a mouthful of Tabasco sauce, as far as I could see in the grainy picture presented. It was trying to reach out at that point, to say what a man secretly wants from a woman that is real (whatever that means, as the film offers no help!). You won’t find anything real in this film or in this fantasy relationship; all it had was a promising premise that was never acted on properly.

Florence rejects Richard’s plea for love by stating you can’t buy love. Our relationship is all about the money, I’m you’re whore. She then shows him what’s real to her as she masturbates herself in front of his tired eyes.

In the end, Wang dangles sex around like it was a pet poodle in heat in order to show how a relationship built around sex turns into a power trip to see who takes control. Both characters are pretentious and self-centered, and have difficulty becoming intimate with one another without playing games and using each other. Richard’s kindness is questioned because he uses money to buy what he wants, while Florence’s vulnerability is questioned because of her whore’s attitude. It’s a film charged with sexual feelings but is not a film about sex, instead it tells about two disconnected lost souls who can function in their fields but can’t touch base with someone else. In the hands of a more imaginative filmmaker, this self-imposed isolation that hinders their relationship and prevents them from finding what’s real could have been done in a more dramatic way. Instead the film breaks down into an abstract philosophical treatise about a relationship that comes with a price tag. It doesn’t move into the realm of art, as the characters remain transfixed in a soft-core porn attitude and fail to get us to feel for them. The faults of this film must be attributed to the director and the screenwriters, the actors did all that was asked of them and appeared up for their parts (no pun intended). Molly Parker is a terrific actress, who tries to make something out of nothing. But strangely enough as attractive and sexy as she is, this film still looked sexually flat.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”