Friday, October 10, 2008

Love Sick: Secrets of a Sex Addict (Lifetime TV, 2008)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

This morning I managed to squeeze in a viewing of a Lifetime movie called Love Sick: Secrets of a Sex Addict, based — or at least “inspired by,” which probably means screenwriter Maria Nation merely took the character names and basic situations and plot premises, and largely invented the rest with liberal doses of well-proved clichés — a memoir by Sue William Silverman (why did her parents give her a male middle name?) with the somewhat less hysterical subtitle One Woman’s Journey Through Sexual Addiction. It’s a production I hoped would provide lots of good, clean dirty fun: plenty of the sort of soft-core porn involving hot-looking men that makes a lot of Lifetime productions watchable even if the plot, writing, directing and acting don’t; lots of picturesque sequences of Our Heroine plumbing the depths of degradation and screwing guys in bars, fleabag hotels, under bridges and other sordid places; and an overall aura of sin for an hour and a half before it came time to swing the plot towards redemption.

Alas, Love Sick didn’t deliver on the promises of its title and central premise: heroine Sue Silverman (Sally Pressman, whom Lifetime was hyping based on her role in their successful series show Army Wives) is blonde and pretty in a rather nondescript fashion, and she has a knack of changing her appearance quite radically so she can look at home as the (presumably) perfect housewife in one scene and the down ’n’ dirty slut the next, but none of the guys seem all that appealing because for some reason the casting director of this film picked a whole bunch of male actors who were pretty indistinguishable physically: all tall, lanky, sandy-haired, clad in grey suits — the film opens at a party and aside from the two Black people there (a man and a woman, presumably together) all the men fit the above-mentioned physical type and all the women look pretty much like Sue except that some of them have dark hair. You wonder why she bothers having affairs with men who are almost completely indistinguishable from her husband!

The husband’s name is Andrew (Peter Flemming) and he’s what in the 1970’s we used to call a male-chauvinist pig, insisting that she upgrade her part-time job to full-time (and give up her ambitions of being a writer) and also that she do all the housework and keep everything impeccably organized to his specifications. She’s also got living parents Irwin (Ken Kramer, an actor with an intriguing resemblance to E. G. Marshall) and Fay (Sandra Timuss) Silverman ( also gives “Silverman” as her husband Andrew’s last name, so either Sue married a guy with the same family name as hers or the screenwriter screwed up), who celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary during the course of the movie at a joyless party in which Dad takes Sue aside and calls her “princess” and “puppy,” and makes her say, “I love you, Daddy” — which instantly had me thinking, “Are they going to explain her sex addiction by saying she was molested by her father? Or have I just been watching too many episodes of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit lately?”

It turns out about four commercial breaks later that she WAS regularly molested by her father, but that only comes out after we’ve seen her trick with three guys: Rick (David James Elliott), a friend of her husband’s; “Bar Guy” (Benjamin Easterday), a racially ambiguous pickup she meets in a biker bar (we know it’s an unsavory place because the music they’re playing is heavy metal); and Laurent Decker (Robert Gauvin), a guest architect from France who works on a project for the architectural firm that employs Sue and who romances her and even offers to marry her despite the inconvenient facts that not only does she has a husband, he has a wife (who fits the willowy blonde template of most of the women in this movie, only her hair is bobbed Jeanne Moreau-style to indicate that she’s French) who just happens to be with him when Sue sidles up and tells him flat-out she’s willing to accept his offer. This — and the break with her female confidante Jill (Medina Hahn) when Jill catches her making a pass at Jill’s husband Steve (Ari Cohen) — propels her to seek therapy with Dr. Robert Gardner (Roger Haskett), yet another tall, lanky, sandy-haired man in the dramatis personae — and it’s to Gardner that she finally confesses she’s a molestation victim and that she’s had “hundreds” of alternative sex partners, which is difficult to square with what we’ve seen on screen — which is a woman surprisingly diffident about adultery for someone who’s being presented as a sex addict.

Grant Harvey’s direction doesn’t help in this department; Charles once joked that all Lifetime movies fit into one of two genres, “disease-of-the-week” and “crime-of-the-week,” and in the scene in which Sue approaches the seedy motel room where Rick is waiting to give her her first extramarital sexual experience (at least the first one we’re going to be privy to) Harvey seems to have got his genres crossed; the suspense editing, the dark shadow from the open doorway and the doomy music give one the impression that she’s going to enter the room and find him murdered. (She enters, the door closes, the show breaks for a commercial, and when we return they’re already getting dressed post-coitally.)

Anyway, Dr. Gardner decides that what Sue needs is a stint in his “clinic,” which turns out to be a sex addicts’ boot camp in the hills, where they’re instructed that they won’t be able to have “sexual” clothing, lipstick, makeup, cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, laptops, cell phones or any of the accoutrements of modern life to which these upper-middle-class people are accustomed. The “clinic” is enlivened by two characters who prove to be the most interesting people in the movie: Karen (Sadie Lawrence), Sue’s roommate, who’s dressed in sexy underwear and is determined to resist the program and get in the pants of Gabriel (Brandon Jay McLaren), a hunky, dreadlocked African-American who is the only male in the place besides Dr. Gardner and who was certainly, at least by my standards, by far the hottest guy in the production — though in the long shots he looked so gender-ambiguous that the beard stubble on his cheeks was all that “outed” him as a man and I kept expecting it would turn out that the reason Dr. Gardner thought it safe to have him work in his female sex addicts’ boot camp was that he was Gay.

Instead, Gabriel actually sneaks into Sue’s room after Karen walks out of the program and offers to meet her on the grounds for a hot fuck session, and it’s only when Sue makes the date and then pulls away and says “no” before Gabriel can do it to her that she reaches the therapeutic breakthrough that will permit her to heal. This scene makes so little sense — why is Gabriel willing to risk his job doing this? Has he done it before? Is he doing this on purpose as part of Gardner’s therapeutic program, getting the women all hot and bothered to test their new-found ability to resist? — that when I saw Gabriel meet Sue while she was sleeping and press a key in her hand representing the room in which they were to meet, my first thought was that this was merely Sue’s dream. At the end the on-screen Sue Silverman, like the real one, has written a book about her experiences and is reading from it at an appearance on her book tour.

To my mind, Anaïs Nin’s A Spy in the House of Love remains the best fiction about this situation — a middle-class married woman seeking a series of extramarital sexual encounters and drawing an emotional wall between her trysts and her home life -— and it succeeds where Love Sick fails not only in the vividness with which Nin depicts the appeal of the sexual underground she eloquently describes but also in her understanding of what might drive a person to seek “wholeness” through two such different lifestyles and her refusal to give her heroine such a blatant cop-out as “Daddy made me do it.” (At the end of Love Sick Lifetime flashes the statistic that one in four American women are sexually molested before their teens — a controversial assertion because Sigmund Freud originally offered the same statistic and then backtracked and wrote off his female patients’ accounts of such things as “fantasies,” for which he’s been criticized retrospectively as a male chauvinist who couldn’t bare the truth of what he’d found out about men and their proclivity to molest the pre-pubescent, so he lied his way out of it — and if true that statement is a really grim comment on human nature even though it also suggests that being molested might not be that bad since if it’s that common, there seem to be an awful lot of people able to rise above it.)

I’m tempted to seek out Silverman’s book to see if it’s more insightful than the rather stupid movie that got made of it ( listed it and also linked to some similarly themed works by or about multiple-partner women) and if she herself turned her story into an occasion for cheap moralizing the way Maria Nation and Grant Harvey did.