Saturday, September 5, 2015

Netflix Picks: Hot Girls Wanted

Posted By on Sat, Sep 5, 2015 at 11:37 AM

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In a better world, sex work would be just another kind of job like retail or insurance. In that world, the young women in the 2015 Netflix original Hot Girls Wanted would still be going into a competitive market with high turnover, surrounded by a toxic company culture to boot. But throw in the stigma of being an adult-film star, and it's no surprise that Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus' documentary is an uneasy look into the world of porn. 

As a backbone, the movie follows Tressa Silguero, 18, a young woman from small-town Texas. To get a taste of freedom, Silguero answers an ad on Craigslist looking for would-be porn stars, offering a free flight to Miami. She takes the deal and meets her agent/leaser, Riley Reynolds, owner/operator of Hussie Models, and another new actress, Rachel Bernard a.k.a. Ava Taylor.

Silguero adopts the name Stella May for herself. Outside of shooting, they act like newly-free young adults do — they eat fast food late at night, they smoke weed and they enjoy themselves thoroughly. 

When Silguero returns home, though, not all is well. Her mother, concerned and unhappy, gives her a chance to tell her father what she's doing. She never does. And at first, her boyfriend, Kendall, is fine with her job. After a party where his friends talk about pulling up her videos, he becomes concerned and insecure, comparing her work to prostitution.

Work is getting worse as well. She's not catching as many eyes as Bernard or housemate Lucy Tyler. To keep ahead of her bills — she and her fellow actresses pay for their own rent, STD testing, underwear and transportation after Reynolds takes his fee — Silguero starts taking gigs she's not comfortable with before an intervention during a visit home gives her the will to leave the industry. 

Hot Girls has a very deliberate tone. The house in Miami is all glamour at first, but each time we return, it appears just another trashy outpost of the Miami suburbs. Indeed, Miami starts as this glitzy, Neverland dream that devolves into a gritty reality for Silguero.

Bauer and Gradus explore some unsettling themes in pornography. They start with porn-viewing statistics — porn sites collectively get more page views than amazon and twitter combined — and they claim that "teen" is the most-searched term in porn worldwide. Models Silguero and Bernard's age rarely last more than a year in the industry. Most burn out after three or four months.

And of course, the film delves into the popularity of abuse and degradation in the industry, with the models they follow so often ending up on sites with names like "Latina abuse" or "exploited teens," both of which sound more like charity causes than masturbation fodder. Degradation as a risk-aware consensual kink is one thing, but when an estimated 40 percent of porn sites promote degradation, as noted in the film, it feels more like an expectation than a niche.

So here's my reservation about Hot Girls Wanted. For all the archival footage and focus on different characters, the movie undercuts its own emotional punch with weak storytelling. The production team stayed invisible during the shooting — all of their voice shows up in post-production. At no point do they prod the situation they're filming to get explanations.

And instead of character depth, we get facts about the industry and a camera that shies away, letting sound and the edge of the video sell the shock that should be self-evident. By contrast, the scenes of Silguero's life in Texas come across as sickly sweet and almost patronizing, leaving the movie with a clumsy emotional impact that dilutes any point the film may have.

But it's still worth watching. Hot Girls Wanted is an interesting look into a dog-eat-dog industry. If any of this is news, don't wait — watch Hot Girls Wanted now.

Congratulations, you're one movie closer to justifying that $8.99 a month.

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