4 Stars
Year Released: 2006
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 95 minutes
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Steve Balderson is that guy. You know who I’m talking about. That one guy everyone meets in film school or a festival, and a five minute conversation later you just KNOW that he’s going to eventually hit it big. It’d be like running into Chris Nolan around the time he was promoting “Following.” You watch the movie; you meet the guy and BOOM! It’s like a religious conversion. There’s no doubt in your mind that he’s destined for greatness. It’s like having ESP and seeing in the future for a minute. After I saw Balderson’s “Firecracker” I knew he was that guy.

Never mind the defeatist mantra of the indie filmmaker about genius being never being appreciated by the common man, the reality is that the truly talented people who keep working and pumping out movies that appeal to at least 60% of the population in some form or another, no matter what kind of minuscule release they get, don’t stay unknown forever. Now they may reject fame or screw up fame, but nonetheless someone’s going to notice them eventually. Hollywood may be stupid, but it’s not blind. The bad, the mediocre and even the pretty damn good may never get a chance, which is both a sad truth and a tragedy, but the great are always noticed because they can rake in bucks all across the board and the investors consider those movies like their retirement savings. They won’t make a gazillion bucks now, but they always make money and it’s a smart move to have a few cards left to play in your hand when you’re almost out of the game.

Steve Balderson is that guy; and, like all talented people, he is a restless soul. He doesn’t just sit around and wait for the funding to clear on his next project. He gets busy with stuff to amuse himself (and hopefully others). With his new movie “Phone Sex” he’s managed to make an entire feature that was probably more expensive in long distance service than in production costs. It’s like a Ken Burns documentary on esoteric transcendentalism tossed in a paint mixer with an episode of taxicab confessions.

Basically, the set up is that Balderson asked various famous and infamous people to call him with their answer to the question “What is Sexy?” The recorded answers to the question are then played over still images. That’s it. That’s the concept. Only, you’d never think hearing people answer such a seemingly simple question could result in so many cool, well thought out philosophical answers but it does. I dare you; I fucking dare you to watch this and not totally be swept up by it in like 5 minutes. It’s hypnotic! Josie Cotton totally sets it up perfect. Her definition of sexy is so vivid and wild and fascinating. Listening to her is like having a really interesting lunch date with a woman you just met and you’re in that weird twilight zone place where you’re not flirting… yet, but you’re both edging towards it. Pleasant Gehman is another caller who completely blows your mind away with her answer. She’s like a verbal Hiroshima, the shrapnel of her thoughts going in every direction. She never bores you for a second.

Every answer from the rest of the callers feels like a verbal make-out session. Some are too short and abrupt, some are playful, some are serious, some are long and languid, some are just weird, some are funny, and some are all of the above. I also like how the question itself seems simple until you really think about all the possible meanings of the word “Sexy”, which is one of the few loaded ambiguous terms in English. Sexy can mean a person, a place, an idea, an activity, a thing and of course the female attribute of sensuality. None of the callers take the question lightly. They really seem to have thought long and hard about it. So throughout the film the meaning of this word is dissected until it’s been stripped bare and exposed for all to see.

“Phone Sex” is more of an experience than a film. In a strange way it’s a great companion piece to “Waking Life.” It’s not as varied, but it’s just as fascinating. How fascinating? Well, I discovered that Edie McLurg can be kind of a sexpot, that Lloyd Kaufmann has a long and illustrious career ahead of him as a stand up comic if ever that whole Troma studio thing doesn’t work out, that Ron Jeremy can be philosophical, and that everything from a nuclear explosion to sweat running down a naked back to a naked woman holding a puppy to a Michael Myers mask can be sexy.

Due to the topic and style, the film is around 15-20 minutes too long, but because it’s one of those movies where you don’t have to ingest it in one lump sum, it’s not that big of a deal. Smart, literate, artistic and intelligent, “Phone Sex” is like a taste of what Balderson is capable of and I’m REALLY looking forward now to his next movie. In the meantime, here’s to hoping that he makes a series out of this.

Posted on November 13, 2006 in Reviews by

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