(director/writer: Lizzie Borden; screenwriters: Sandra Kay/story by Lizzie Borden; cinematographer: Judy Irola; editor: Lizzie Borden; music: David Van Tieghem; cast: Louise Smith (Molly), Ellen McElduff (Lucy) Amanda Goodwin (Dawn), Marusia Zach (Gina), Janne Peters (April), Helen Nicholas (Mary); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Andi Gladstone/Lizzie Borden; First Run Features; 1986)

“Filmed in a near-documentary style, trying to hide that it’s more or less a clinical study masked as a fiction film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Feminist filmmaker Lizzie Borden (“Born in Flames”/”Love Crimes”/”Regrouping”)delivers in this low-budget pic her simplistic take on prostitutes, reasoning that it’s a good paying alternative occupation for women but like traditional careers also has many disadvantages. The working girls are viewed as business-like pros, who privately sneer at their johns for being such losers but welcome their business and for the most part flatter their client’s egos and honor their kinky demands for an extra charge unless it’s too outrageous for them. Ms. Borden follows several working girls for one day, starting with the day shift and ending with the night shift, as they ply their trade in an luxury Manhattan apartment turned into a bordello that’s well-maintained by their pretentious fusspot upwardly mobile madam Lucy (Ellen McElduff)–someone who prefers to think she’s running a dating service. The film focuses on Molly (Louise Smith), a brainy lesbian with an English lit and art history degree from Yale. Molly lives with a black woman, with children, who is unaware she’s a hooker. Other prostitutes include independent-minded college student Dawn (Amanda Goodwin), the genial business savvy Gina (Marusia Zach), nervous newcomer Mary (Helen Nicholas) and the embittered aging April (Janne Peters).

The girls receive calls from their mostly upscale customers and have a large number of repeat customers, as we view them in their sessions. Ms. Borden’s re-enactments are artificial dramas, where the dialogue is stilted, the characters are not developed but shown primarily as caricatures, and the overall effect is leaden. It was surprisingly not that erotic and its matter-of-fact points about the ‘world’s oldest profession’ seemed hardly earth-shaking. It’s filmed in a near-documentary style, trying to hide that it’s more or less a clinical study masked as a fiction film. The prostitutes are not judged or condemned or glamorized or romanticized, but shown as just regular gals trying to make a fast buck in a man’s world. The thought here is that they are working girls who are just dealing in sex as another commodity and seem to be in charge of things when it comes to the sex part. The filmmaker’s simple message is to lay off these prostitutes, they’re just working girls. Borden ably points out that these prostitutes, often unfairly glamorized by Hollywood or condemned by religious groups, are really just working girls who could have spent another day in the office if not for the controversy over their profession, and like other workers all have normal private lives that they retreat to after a hard day at work (no pun intended).

Working Girls Poster