I am super gratified to be able to say this about a film from New Sensations: there is a lot going on in The Sexual Liberation of Anna Lee. And I mean that in a slightly surprised, really good way. I’m pretty skeptical of big-budget mainstream porn films, because I’ve been disappointed so very many times, but I’m happy to report that this one not only didn’t disappoint me–it kind of captivated me. And I’m serious right now: this is a feminist film. Seriously.
Here’s what you need to know about this film: it’s a feature-length erotica narrative about Anna Lee (Maddy O’Reilly), who’s caught between her upbringing as a “good girl” and her “bad girl” (ie, totally normal) sexual desires. She seeks treatment at an “unconventional” therapy practice called The Variel House, where India Summer and Steven St. Croix put her through a month and a half of escalating daily “tasks” that range from listening to other people having sex to revealing her most intimate desires to strangers to learning to dress all sexy-like. In short: this movie was made for women who want to be sexually adventurous, but who are a little afraid to do so. And awesomely, I think it does a great job at egging them along in a sexy and–dare I say it–rather intelligent, feminist way.
It’s not all perfect: the film is 95% straight (there’s one scene where the lead gets a little freaky with two women, but that’s about the extent of the queerness factor), 100% white, 100% cisgender, and not very far removed from vanilla on the flavor spectrum. But these are small complaints in the larger picture: The Sexual Liberation of Anna Lee has a lot going for it. It holds together remarkably well as a film, with exceptional writing (remember, this is within the context of porn–let’s not get crazy) and solid performances. I can’t say that about most porn movies.
Another thing I can’t say very often about mainstream porn feature films? I was really turned on by the end because every sex scene was better than the last. I wasn’t too impressed by the India Summer/Johnny Castle pairing that started things off, mostly because of a lack of chemistry, but the second sex scene, with Xander Corvus and Natalia Starr, was a step up in the hotness department. Corvus, who is far from my favorite porn actor, did a good job of staying in character while boning in this one. Unfortunately his character was a creepfest, but, still. Mad ups. The third scene, featuring Steven St. Croix and Jessa Rhodes, was better than the preceding two; St. Croix really got into it and Rhodes was definitely enjoying herself (if a little excessively loudly at times).
The fourth sex scene, though, was where things got interesting for me. This was the first of Maddy O’Reilly’s sex scenes, and her performance was nothing short of electric. On the final day of her training at the Variel House, she is bound to a St. Andrew’s Cross and teased, tortured, tickled, and touched by four people. There’s food play, sensation play with ice and wax, impact play, and more. (This is why I say the film isn’t totally vanilla.) And O’Reilly responds with genuine longing, ecstasy, need. Holy crap. I mean. Hot.
And the final scene between O’Reilly and Corvus? The one I’d been waiting the whole movie to see? The release of the sexual tension that had been building for two hours, and the culmination of the title character’s training in eroticism? Totally. Freaking. Worth it. Again, O’Reilly gave a killer performance as a sexually realized woman getting it on with the guy she’s been lusting after, and I completely believed that these two had been wanting to fuck each other for, like, months. The scene was absolutely explosive, with both actors seeming to enjoy themselves immensely.
Really, that’s all I ask in a porno. The sex acts themselves are often irrelevant. My personal attraction to the people involved is only a detail. What I want to see is genuine excitement, palpable chemistry, obviously real pleasure. And O’Reilly’s scenes had all of this in spades. Pair her performance with a storyline that interested me, writing that went far above and beyond the call of duty, high quality editing and cinematography, some legitimate acting, and the takeaway message being that women should strive to feel free and empowered by their sexuality rather than imprisoned by it… I mean feminism, people.
Basically, The Sexual Liberation of Anna Lee did better than surprising me. It made me smile. And take off my pants.