The Fluffer

Porn actors are forever talking about the dream of "crossing over" to mainstream moviemaking. It’d be nice if somebody with porn-world experience did cross over, but as a screenwriter. Then maybe some movies which portray the "adult film industry" accurately might hit screens. The Fluffer is a drama of unrequited love, all about a lonely young gay man who pines for the tough straight guy he can’t ever really have. The fact that the straight guy in question acts in gay porn for money adds a slight tinge of complication, but the whole package would have played better if the movie had bothered answering some of the questions it delicately raises.

Sean is an aspiring movie director, who gets a job with Men of Janus films (the "J" is forever being spray-painted over by vandals), a gay porn company. He takes the job because he’s obsessed/infatuated with Johnny Rebel, one of the company’s major stars. Johnny turns out to be a self-centered, bad-tempered guy with a live-in stripper girlfriend named Babylon, and he’s only doing gay porn for the money. (With his looks and build, he could be doing straight porn, but the film doesn’t tell us why he’s made the choice he has.) One day, Sean is working as the cameraman on one of Johnny’s shoots, and when Johnny needs some assistance getting "ready" for a scene, his biggest fan gladly obliges. (The film’s title refers to a person on a porn set, whether gay or straight, whose job is to get, and keep, the male performers aroused.) Sean’s infatuation only deepens, but Johnny barely notices who’s servicing him. He’s only thinking of himself or, at best, Babylon.

The Fluffer comes closer than Boogie Nights did to portraying the reality of the porn industry. Its utilitarian framing conveys the tedium of what is, after all, just another movie set, with all the waiting around and technical details that implies. There’s nothing exciting about the porn sets depicted in the movie. Everybody’s just doing their job. The directors, played by Taylor Negron and Rich Riehle, are two of the most interesting characters in the film. Their jaded reactions to everything, and particularly Riehle’s repeated complaints about excessive artsiness in Sean’s filming, are always entertaining, and sometimes hilarious.

The biggest problem The Fluffer has is that there’s never any reason why anything happens. Sean takes the job with the porn company, instead of a feature he’s offered on the same day, because he wants to meet Johnny Rebel. That’s the last bit of motivation offered for anything, though. When Babylon turns up pregnant, the viewer’s not privy to her decision-making process regarding the child’s fate. Neither is the viewer ever told why Johnny makes gay porn instead of straight porn. Even Johnny’s eventual downfall is given the thinnest of all possible justifications: he’s a speed freak, so he commits crimes. That’s all that needs to be said, apparently. How he became a drug addict, and how he maintained his incredible physique while going on five-day speed binges, isn’t discussed. Johnny commits a murder in a frantic search for drugs, and the movie all but shrugs it off. And when Sean helps Johnny run away to Mexico (where the film reaches what is meant to be a conclusion), there’s no reason why. It just happens.

This same tone of bored nothingness permeates the work of a few writers–Dennis Cooper and Bret Easton Ellis–who’ve documented the dissipated (and in Cooper’s case, the gay) youth culture of Los Angeles. Those writers, though, were at least trying to make some larger point. Ellis is an explicit moralist, as though he were attempting to become the F. Scott Fitzgerald of today. Cooper’s writing depicts people struggling to understand why they do the things they do. Wash Westmoreland, the writer of The Fluffer, doesn’t bother with either of these goals. His story is, as Marge once described a particularly baroque episode of The Simpsons, "just a bunch of stuff that happened."

Phil Freeman

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