Naked Came the Filmmaker
And I do mean “came.”
Look, there’s masturbatory filmmaking, and then there’s Caveh Zahedi’s I Am a Sex Addict, which puts a whole new literal spin on the term and gets big points for audacity and adventurousness and the filmmaker’s willingness to let himself look like a fool, but loses most of them again for tedious self-involvement and failing to reach beyond its one-joke premise.
It’s like this: Zahedi has made a very personal film, almost a kind of video diary, about how madly in love men are with their own penises, and on the one hand, he’s smart enough and self-aware enough to realize how ridiculous this aspect of human maleness is, but on the other hand, he’s also most definitely a human male and hence is at least half convinced that we all find his penis as fascinating as he does. He’s the butt of his own joke, but he can’t give in to it all the way, because secretly, he doesn’t really think he should be a joke at all.
I say this as a woman who finds men adorable, at least in theory, but who also finds them hilarious. So I kinda don’t wanna burst Zahedi’s bubble, because at least he’s being open and exploratory and honest about how infatuated with himself he is, which is more than can be said for most men, but still: Bwahahaha, get over yourself, dude.
The idea is, it’s Caveh’s wedding day, and he’s standing in front of his cheap-ass videocam in his tux spilling the beans about his sex addiction and how he overcame it to get to this place of peace and monogamy, though why he’s telling us instead of his fiancée is a bit of a mystery — perhaps the video is meant for the kids to watch later on so they can see what a dork dad was. Whatever. And he tells his tale of girlfriends he never really loved (or did he?) and the one true love who of course got away and how his sexual insecurities and childhood hangups and feminist philosophies somehow led him to fantasize about prostitutes and then to actually patronize prostitutes. The flashbacks from the wedding monologue are staged with a postmodern snark, with all manner of asides about how the actress playing this girlfriend turned out to be a porn star (actual porn star Rebecca Lord) and the actress playing that girlfriend had a problem with even pretending to go down on Caveh in front of the camera (Emily Morse) even though his blow-job fantasies are vital to telling his sad story.
Blow jobs are vital, I tell you: vital. I know men will swear this is true, but I can tell you that women think this is pretty funny in a pathetic kind of way.
Zehedi’s film is kind of funny, too, sporadically, and in a pathetic kind of way — Zahedi nailed to a cross in one bit, a personification of the baggage and guilt Catholicism has left him with, deserves a bark of laughter, and how completely unsexy and unromantic absolutely everything and everyone onscreen is earns a snort of ironic appreciation. Sex Addict is a total antiaphrodisiac — if you’re looking to never want to have sex again, just watch one of the many scenes in which Zahedi moans unconvincingly as a hooker sucks him off in his tiny shitbox of a car. And in a way: hoorah, cuz sex addiction isn’t something to be envied (or so sex addicts tell us) and so why should we expect Zahedi’s depiction of it to be genuinely sexy?
But all the ironic snorting and cynical smirking Sex Addict prompts is another part of why it ultimately fails. You won’t find a bigger fan than me of Generation X’s love of mockery and constitutional inability to take anything seriously, but that mass personality quirk is a reaction to the glibness and gloss of pop culture — it’s really a kind of longing for sincerity and honesty, and an expression of cynical doubt of ever really encountering it. And Sex Addict is the kind of movie that is screaming to be accepted as an honest and open, but instead it leaves us wondering how much of it to accept as true, and how much of it to accept as merely a big put-on. When Zahedi tells us that he saw “marriage as part of the same capitalist system that had produced the genocide in Vietnam,” as a joke to be subverted, is he being genuine, or is he making fun of that attitude? When he tells us that he was the kind of person who saw life as performance art and he believed that overcoming sexual jealousy was a “high-flying experiment in self-transcendence,” don’t those attitudes have the mocking built in? For all the passive-aggression he terms “honesty” and all the high-minded philosophical justifications, isn’t he really just a guy who won’t admit that he doesn’t want a committment and likes to have sex with lots of women? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but just cop to it, okay?