"Go west, young man!" So goes the rallying cry of Manifest Destiny, the beckoning of American exploration, and often, the pillaging of the “wild west.” Take a step forward to modern times, and such ghostly whispers can be heard in Doug Lindeman’s directorial debut, Angel’s Ladies.
On it’s low-fi video surface, Angel’s Ladies is about the brothel business, deep in the desert of Nevada. Mark and Angel Moore made a career change from Oregon funeral home owners to proprietors of a brothel somewhere between Death Valley and the Nuclear Weapons Testing Range. Arming itself with a big subject, professional sex workers, Angel’s Ladies attempts at an ambitious character study of people supposedly on the margins of society.
The story starts with Mark and Angel Moore, whose sincerity in their work comes off at times like a Marketing 101 crash course. Mark and Angel are committed to customer service, believing that they offer a valuable service to the community. In fact, Angel herself has gone the extra mile to take some tricks to please customers turned away by the other girls.
The three girls in the brothel, Kevin, Linda, and Melody, live and work at Angel’s, an arrangement reminiscent of boarding school, with rules and regulations. The brothel is a metaphor for a modern day family. The parents evoke rule in the name of discipline and the girls have their private rebellions. The film spends a lot of time on their character histories, flushing out the roots of their individual personalities.
Conveniently, the three girls are sufficiently different to illustrate well-meaning points. Kevin seems the least likely of the three to be a prostitute. She has the least amount of camera time in the film. Linda and Melody are more outspoken, and at times even charismatic. But what need is there for the shots of Melody dancing around the desert in her lingerie? Is it to show the audience that we are seeing free spirits patched against the sinister backdrop of the Nevada desert, far from the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas? The film has a lot of these careless shots, and they distract from the overall narrative.
Unfortunately, the film naively mistakes all-encompassing radical social crusade with individual sexual transgressions, and fails to link these two points together. The girls fight for the right to work as professional sex workers, rejecting society’s puritanical “morals,” but little resistance from the community is shown, begging the question of whether anybody really cares what they do.
The film works best when it sticks to the mechanics of the sex trade business. The not so delicate details of the payment process, the protocols of the arrangement, the spectacle in the bedroom are too sketchy. The really interesting characters are the gentleman callers and the more sophisticated question is what private forces lead these men to Angel’s. None of the girls hold enough interest to warrant listening to their stories, their on camera tirades flipping back and forth between self-absorption and backstabbing lashes at the other girls. It’s difficult to stick too closely with Angel’s Ladies when the characters of the film are so unbearable to listen to. It’s obvious what kind of film Lindeman was going for, and the subject in itself is indeed fascinating, but he can’t go on the subject alone to tell a story worth watching. Aside from providing comic relief, Angel’s Ladies fails to illuminate anything one didn’t know already, and their presence in the lonely desert seems a transgression on its own.
– Sue Hugh