Numa Perrier wrote, directed, and stars in Jezebel, a semi-autobiographical memoir of a turbulent time in her life. When she was a young woman she found herself sharing a small apartment in Las Vegas with five family members as her mother lay dying in a nearby hospital.
Perrier calls the 19-year-old version of herself “Tiffany” (Tiffany Tenille), while the director herself plays her own older sister Sabrina. Sabrina works on a phone sex line. After their mother passes, money gets tight, and she suggests Tiffany could contribute income by doing work in the newly emerging market of websites hosting internet “cam girl” fantasy sex models.
Tiffany gets hired and chooses “Jezebel” as her cam girl name. She soon learns some hard lessons about the seedy business, but undeterred, she flourishes as the only “live black model” at a new adult site. Quickly, mistakes are made and she breaks the rules with one of her frequent “private show” customers.
“…Perrier brings an intense affection to her story and characters…“
Perrier shows us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of early internet peep-shows. This style of cam girl show is very different now, as is phone sex. Remotely-connected sex has become dramatically more sophisticated since the time of these events.
The sisters could easily have concluded their work was sordid and shameful, but the opposite happens: they are empowered by the influence they have over their customers and by the financial freedom they find in being the objects of sex fantasy for distant observers. Comparing notes, they find no shame in the work, and that they are both doing it brings them an esprit-de-corps in their multi-layered experience of sisterhood.
Tenille plays Tiffany with grace and humor. Perrier brings an intense affection to her story and characters as well as delivering a rock-solid performance as her own sister. This is not an exposé or social commentary about online porn. It’s no horrific, cathartic confession of a terrible time. It’s a warm story about how Perrier’s family overcame a terrible time and emerged stronger for it.
All that said, the film does feel unfinished. The fidelity to actual events may be intact, but narratively it falls apart when potential conflicts are not developed nor come to any resolution. This is a minor point, however. Perrier is an undeniable talent and as a first outing, Jezebel is a powerful statement. Independent film has been put on notice that Numa Perrier is most definitely in the house.
Jezebel (2019) Directed by Numa Perrier. Starring Tiffany Tenille, Numa Perrier, Brett Gelman. Jezebel screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
7 out of 10