Modern sexuality is a fascinating world to navigate, considering so many things have changed since the advent of the internet. This includes different kinds of sex work in the form of camming. Women (and, to a lesser extent, men) around the world make a living off of being “cam-girls.” Men (and, to a lesser extent, women) flock to these sites. It’s safer for both parties than the classic prostitution situation because there’s a computer screen and sometimes thousands of miles that separate the cam-girl and her client.
Ben Hozie, who I know best as being the leader of the band BODEGA, shows us a slice of life for both cam-girls and their clientele in PVT CHAT. The film starts out focusing on the life of Jack (Peter Vack), a late-20’s/ early 30’s guy who lives in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chinatown. He spends most of his time either playing on-line blackjack—which is how he makes his money—or on the cam-girl sites and massage parlors where he spends it. Jack seems like a lonely person and goes on the cam-girl sites to achieve some kind of connection with people that he can’t connect to in reality for whatever reason.
His favorite cam-girl, by far, is the San Fransisco-based dominatrix, Scarlett (Julia Fox). We see the finer details of their sessions, but as their “relationship” goes on, the two start to really get to know each other, or so they think. One night, Jack swears that he sees Scarlett at a bodega in Chinatown and follows her all the way to her house, which is, clearly, not in San Fransisco. The second part of the movie shows us the reality behind Scarlett’s cam-girl fantasy world. For example, how she’s working as a cam-girl to help support her boyfriend’s dreams of being a playwright and director.
“…she’s working as a cam-girl to help support her boyfriend’s dreams…”
Jack mentions at several points how all human interaction is transactional, everyone uses each other, and no one does anything without selfish reasons. The whole of PVT CHAT seems to underline this thesis. It deals with loneliness in all kinds of people and the brief moments of joy we spend with other people that remove us from existential despair. It sounds way heavier than it really is. There are moments of humor, including Jack wrestling with his oddball friend Larry (Buddy Duress) in the middle of an art gallery opening, and the ending is both light-hearted and perverted simultaneously.
The performances from both Vack and Fox are incredible. The characters feel lived-in and real, even when they’re pretending to be someone else. The script, also by Hozie, is phenomenal. It captures the particular misery of being a millennial in a place like NYC. It revels in its characters’ flaws and ultimately shows that humanity is really not all that terrible at the end of the day. Hozie’s cinematography captures the beauty of the city, particularly Chinatown.
PVT CHAT deserves a spot in the echelon of great films about sex, such as Secretary and sex, lies, and videotape. The movie just has so much humanity to it. It shows us our ugliness as a society but also our beauty, without ever being cheesy or hackneyed. Additionally, it’s going on the list of my favorite films of the year. I can’t wait for everyone else to see it!
PVT CHAT screened at the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival.
"…deserves a spot in the echelon of great films about sex..."