The topic of teen prostitution gets light treatment in LOVER GIRL, a moderately enjoyable but ultimately forgettable effort from first-time feature filmmakers Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse. The film traveled the festival circuit in 1997 and was released to home video in 1998.
Abandoned by her mother, 16-year-old Jake (Tara Subkoff) shows up on the doorstep of her older sister, Darlene (Kristy Swanson), who turns her away. Broke and alone, Jake sleeps outside until Marci (Sandra Bernhard), Darlene's neighbor and the manager of a nearby massage parlor, reluctantly takes
her in. Jake quickly surmises that Marci and her staff--Coco (Loretta Devine), Teddy (Renee Humphrey), and Bambi (Sahara Lotti)--do more than just shiatsu their clients. She wants to learn the trade, but Marci won't allow it because she's underage. But after Jake takes a client on the sly and
pulls in more money than the other girls, Marci senses Jake's potential to become the cathouse's cash cow. She lets Jake work--provided she hides when the owner, Jean (Susan Barnes), comes around.
Jake quickly bonds with Marci and the girls, who share an apartment and pool their earnings. It's the closest thing she has ever had to family. When Darlene sees the money her little sister is raking in, she wants in on the action. She gets hired at the spa, where she butts heads with Marci and
exposes Jake's secret employment. The high times are over, and none too soon for Jake, who has decided that she isn't cut out for the business. Marci, who has developed maternal affection for Jake, perhaps as a surrogate for the daughter she gave up for adoption years ago, pledges to take care of
Addario and Syracuse conceived the idea for their script after moving into a neighborhood rife with massage parlors. To research the project, Syracuse toiled with a company called "Wet, Hot and Wild," which receives an acknowledgment in the closing credits. But rather than exposing pseudo-massage
parlors, this film strives to defend them, and to challenge the stereotypical image of sex workers. The women in LOVER GIRL are independent, forward-thinking businesswomen who found the path to female empowerment while letting their fingers do the walking.
Surprisingly absent from the film--considering the subject matter--are nudity and gratuitous sex. The script is deliberately vague about just how far Jake goes with her clients, and the girls are never seen in less than bras and panties. Also absent is any moralizing. Though Jake expresses regret
over her working days, she seems neither traumatized nor transformed by the experience. The message seems to be: borderline prostitution is OK, but wait until you're 18.
Bernhard gives an atypically subdued performance, balancing her character's toughness with emerging motherly tenderness. Subkoff appears too mature for the lead role of a candy-craving teen. Her characterization lacks vulnerability, a trait that might have raised the stakes of the action.
Standouts among the supporting cast are Devine as a brassy masseuse, and Tim Griffin as Jake's first customer, a bashful mechanic who falls in love with her. (Sexual situations, adult situations, extreme profanity.)
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- Released: 1997
- Rating: R
- Review: The topic of teen prostitution gets light treatment in LOVER GIRL, a moderately enjoyable but ultimately forgettable effort from first-time feature filmmakers Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse. The film traveled the festival circuit in 1997 and was released to… (more)