Greetings again from the darkness. The fine line of demarcation between “art” and pornography is one of society’s longest-running debates. “I know it when I see it” was made official in 1964 by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in a case where the subjective categorization of obscenity was on trial. Of course the obvious problem with that definition is that everyone “sees it” differently. Director Jerry Ciccoritti (“Schitt’s Creek”) presents a film version of Jeff Kober’s stage play “Pornography”. Mr. Kober, a veteran actor, also appears here as a key character.
Leslie Hope stars as Melanie, our lead character and narrator. Melanie is diagnosed with a terminal illness, and her reaction to that affects her marriage, her sobriety, her friends, and results in a controversial art exhibit. That art exhibit acts as a framing device and structure for a film that is mostly various vignettes assembled together in a somewhat related, yet haphazard manner. We initially witness Melanie’s anxiety over opening night, and the reason for her trepidation is slowly revealed … the exhibit is set up as a peep show of the tintype photographs taken of her vagina. Yep, the worst possible news from the doctor led her to expose her lady parts, while also falling into the stereotypical lustful affair with the photographer (played by writer Kober).
We watch as each of her invited friends take a glimpse at the photographs. It’s not until the closing credits that we see Melanie the way they see Melanie, but the ensuing conversations tell us what we need to know. Each of the attending couples and friends gets their own dedicated segment preceded by their own tintype photograph. These cool retro photographs were the highlight to this viewer. However the focus of the film is how each person reacts to the exhibit and how it impacts their own relationship, most of which seem teetering on the brink of collapse. After each vignette, we are returned to the exhibit’s opening night, and also get additional color on Melanie’s search for meaning in life.
The characters we briefly get to know include Melanie’s husband Frank (Bruce Greenwood), who seems impossibly patient and understanding, given the situation. A substantial portion of their conversations occur over the phone while Frank sits alone in their bedroom (or even asleep). Others we meet: Mickey (Kristin Lehman), an alcoholic middle-aged party girl, Jerry (Daniel Maslany, brother of Tatiana), the acting DJ and AA member under sponsor Frank, Diane (Megan Follows), Tom (Kris Holden-Reid), Brian (David Hewlett), and married couple Betsy (Grace Lynn Kung) and Gregg (Benjamin Ayres), who air entirely too many grievances for our comfort.
Alcoholism and AA are referenced throughout the film, and Mickey even spouts, “Alcoholism is a good idea taken too far.” A misplaced debate on the best rock and roll drummer falls flat, but at least offers a momentary reprieve from the non-stop chatter on sex and vaginas. Obviously the title has dual meanings, and what the film does best is reinforce the need for art to spark conversation, debate and reflection.