Women in Trouble is one of those movies that succeeds at nothing. No, not one that fails at everything, but a movie that's perfectly enjoyable without achieving any particular goal. Imagine one of those Crash-style ensemble movies, except the plot threads never intertwine. It's sort of bizarre: writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez pops his head in to examine these people for a short spell, and then ducks out before anything in particular transpires. Why these characters? Why now? I'm not entirely sure, but spending time with them certainly isn't unpleasant.
The "main" character, I suppose, is Elektra Luxx (Carla Gugino), a popular adult film star who has just discovered that she's pregnant. The pregnancy is kind of a MacGuffin: it motivates her to realize her feelings for the man who fathered the child, but is the pregnancy that big of a deal? Maybe I'm putting too much thought into it, but each day, real-life porn stars inch closer to mainstream celebrity (several of them have already crossed over), and I have a hard time buying that an unexpected pregnancy would really make much of a difference to a real professional (as far as I can tell, most of them take nine months off and segue into producer/director careers). But Gugino, an underrated actress, settles right into the role, and she plays well off of co-stars Connie Britton and Isabella Gutierrez.
Britton plays Doris, who is filled with regret over a long-standing secret: her daughter, Charlotte (Gutierrez -- no relation to the director) has grown up believing that Doris' sister Addy (Caitlin Keats) is actually her mother. WHile the lightning fast bond between Elektra and Doris is more than a tad unbelievable (the two meet when an elevator shuts down with them in it, and by the end of the 92-minute movie they're close enough that Doris calls Elektra when someone ends up in the hospital), both Britton and Gugino sell it, sharing several of the most heartfelt scenes in the movie. Guiterrez is also extremely appealing as the teenaged Charlotte, imbuing her tics and sarcasm with life rather than precociousness. It's both a logical revelation and completely shocking to learn that Gutierrez turns 40 this year; she looks 20 years younger but clearly has the experience.
One of Elektra's co-stars is Holly Rocket (Adrianne Palicki), a flighty blonde who balances smart and stupid in equal measure. Holly is secretly in love with her friend Bambi (Emmanuelle Chriqui), but a bizarre story from when she was younger is holding her back from speaking up. Through a series of plot twists too complicated and irrelevant to bother explaining, she ends up confessing all to a masseuse named Darby (Cameron Richardson), in another of the movie's more heartfelt and affecting scenes. Lastly, Marley Shelton makes a brief impact as a flight attendant who has a tryst with rocker Nick Chapel (Josh Brolin), a tryst that doesn't end well.
There's some sense that Gutierrez took a series of screenplays he was writing but couldn't finish and jammed them all together, as if leaving no room for a serious conclusion is enough to justify not having one. Doris' sister Abby and a side plot about her shrink Maxine (Sarah Clarke, looking remarkably like Elisabeth Shue) and her husband Travis (Simon Baker) either takes up too much screen time or not enough, since Gutierrez only has enough time to get their story to the halfway point before abandoning it for more scenes with Britton and Gugino. The same goes for Shelton's flight attendant. Her story is ultimately important for the way it affects some of the other characters, but Gutierrez acts as if it's just another central plot thread rather than a side story.
They don't make enough movies about women, and many of the ones that do slip out unscathed seem like they're overcompensating for the ones that didn't make it, becoming so completely and exclusively about being Entertainment For Women that it becomes alienating, and the projects never break through to the mainstream. Women in Trouble succeeds in the sense that it has complicated, well-written characters for its talented cast of women, and it will even lure in a few guys (who may or may not be frustrated by the fact that there's no nudity in a film about so many adult entertainers). The only problem is that it feels like half a story, the first few chapters of a more satisfying movie, and as I write this, Gutierrez is already working on Elektra Luxx, a sequel about the further adventures of Gugino's character. Go figure.
Women in Trouble has an eye-catching, well-designed front cover that adds to one of the movie's theatrical posters, but I'm not sure how well it advertises the actual movie. I suppose the film itself is pretty sexy, although I bet there are going to be some annoyed viewers discovering it's all talk and no action. There will also probably be some annoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt fans, since the guy gets billing, and, thanks to those additions made to the cover, his picture on the packaging, but he only has one scene in the movie, and it comes after the credits (so don't turn it off when it looks like it's over!). The back cover, on the other hand, is weak: too much empty space, and a photo that implies that the women in this movie all know each other, as if it's an amped-up "Sex and the City". There is no insert, and the disc is black, with the title logo on it.
The Video and Audio
Screen Media's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation looks decidedly okay, with reasonable color reproduction, fine detail, and clarity. It's not as polished as I might've hoped for, but it looks like a new movie, and if there were any compression artifacts, I must have missed them. Some scenes and shots look better than others, but I'm sure any unevenness to the quality is inherent to the source. It's worth pointing out that a Blu-Ray version is also available, for anyone interested.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounds equally unremarkable. This is a film about people talking, and except for the occasional quick-cut montage, and a song being played by a bar band, the rear channels don't get much of a workout. English subtitles are provided, and I caught two small typos (one where a British character saying "flirting" is subbed as "floating" -- are the subtitle people working phonetically?).
"Behind the Scenes with Holly Rocket and Elektra Luxx" (1:49) is a short bit with Palicki and Gugino chatting about the movie in character. Funny, but it's just an ad. The sexy "Pool Teaser Trailer" (1:02), with Gugino, Chriqui, Britton and Richardson is more upfront about it.
Five deleted scenes (1:29, 1:31, 0:57, 1:37 and 1:08 -- no "play all" option) are not actually deleted scenes at all, but the complete takes of a dream sequence montage featuring cameos by actors Lauren Katz, Xander Berkeley, Caitlin Keats, Elizabeth Berkley, and Paul Cassell. Sadly, there isn't much here; most of the material from these short bits made it into the movie.
In a somewhat old-fashioned-y way, the automatic trailers for Death in Love and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee start after you press "Play" on the main menu rather than before the menu.
Women in Trouble offers low-key pleasures. It's more like a comfortable lark than a sprawling character drama, and if the viewer doesn't mind the open-endedness of it all, it's more than worth a look. Recommended.
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