Film Review – Careless Love

Careless Love (MA)

Directed by: John Duigan

Starring: Nammi Le, Peter O’Brien, Andrew Hazzard

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

The plight of a prostitute can be haunting and soul-destroying. And yet at the same time, the psychology behind it can be fascinating. What makes certain women put themselves in a line of work where their body is used for the sexual gratification of men? Surely, it’s not simply the handful of cash they receive for an hour’s work. But if the pay is the appeal, how do they deal with the shame associated with it? And how do they try to live a “normal” life during the daylight hours?

The topic has been explored from almost every possible angle from the ludicrously fairytale-like Pretty Woman,  to the devastating in Requiem for a Dream. John Duigan’s version of a Sydney call girl’s experiences will suffer from comparisons with last year’s fascinatingly enigmatic Sleeping Beauty in which, similarly, a university student turns to selling her body for money. But for all it shares with that ambiguous but intriguing film, it makes up for with a fresh point of view.

Linh (Nammi Le) is a Vietnamese Australian studying at the University of Sydney, who is forced to work as a call-girl for Orient Express to help pay her parents mortgage. She keeps it secret from her room mates, telling them she spends long hours at the library studying, and for a while she is able to keep her two lives separate. The two worlds come dangerously close to colliding when she begins a relationship with charming actor Jack (Andrew Hazzard).

Like Sleeping Beauty, we see this call girl with a collection of her clients and the different fantasies they play out with her or on her. There is the group of bratty uni students that hire her as a birthday present for a mate, the lonely middle-aged guy, the one that buys her expensive gifts. There is also Luke (Peter O’Brien), the shady American arts dealer who becomes fond of her. Unlike Sleeping Beauty, the encounters are mostly void of explicit content.

Writer/director/executive producer/co-star John Duigan doesn’t make any groundbreaking discoveries about the world of prostitution and much of what we see is familiar territory, but exploring it from the point of view of a Vietnamese Australian gives it a cultural twist. Watch the attitude of a group of arrogant rugby players change toward Linh when they discover she is an Aussie and not fresh off the boat like they first thought. The cultural element also lends itself to some nice scenes between Linh and her tough as nails colleague Mint (Ivy Mak) who is trying to improve on her broken English.

Le is a pleasant enough screen presence and brings warmth to her often times deliberately aloof character but she is unable to convey the incredible weight on her character’s shoulders. This poor girl is a full-time student, away from her family, has taken financial responsibility for her struggling parents, selling her body to men by the hour and trying to hide it from her boyfriend. But when she discovers a client knows her boyfriend and her cover is threatened, Le barely flinches.

Despite Le’s performance not giving us the full emotional complexity of the situation, her character’s journey is nevertheless one worth experiencing. Careless Love doesn’t trivialise prostitution like Julia Roberts’ light-weight version nor does it startle us with confronting imagery like Requiem for a Dream or Sleeping Beauty, but it does offer us some insight into the burden suffered by those who take up the profession while still trying to lead a ‘normal’ life during the day.

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