Directed by Richard Glatzer, Wash West. Starring Debbie Harry, Guinevere Turner, Tim Bagley, Richard Riehle, Roxanne Day, Taylor Negron, Scott Gurney, Michael Cunio. (2001, NR, 94 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 22, 2002
Despite a title that – for the less jaded among us, at least – recalls one of Bambi's perky forest pals (“You can call me Fluffer, tee-hee!”), this seriocomic look at obsessive love and the pitfalls found therein is for the most part a disarming, charming, and frequently cynical exercise in mordant humor. Across the tracks and one block over from Main Street, USA, the term “fluffer” applies to that person on an adult film set whose sole responsibility is to keep the male actor primed for action and ready to perform at the, um, peak of his abilities. In the world of gay porn -- The Fluffer's milieu, which has had some people mistakenly calling this “the queer Boogie Nights ”-- it's strictly a minor gig, far below the rock-hard abs of the tops and bottoms, many of whom are “gay for pay,” meaning they're straight men who've drifted over from male/female gigs to the more financially lucrative world of male/male adult flickery. This is the compromising position that shy Los Angeles newcomer Sean McGinnis (Cunio) eventually finds himself in. No farmboy fresh off the Iowa Greyhound he: Sean is a devoted cinephile who divides his downtime between searching for work as a legitimate actor and renting classic films from the local video store. It's there that he rents Citizen Kane one night and arrives home to find that it's not Welles' masterpiece at all, but -- whoops! -- a cheap queer knockoff called Citizen Cum. Curious, Sean checks it out and promptly falls head over heels in love with the film's strapping beefcake star Johnny Rebel (Gurney). Smitten, he decides to track down the hunka-hunka-burning-love and ends up at the offices of Men of Janus Films where he takes a job as a cameraman and all-around gopher, hoping to run into his male fantasy figure. It's not long before Sean and gay-for-pay dullard Johnny meet and the infatuated newcomer takes up the titular job as the Reb's pre-shoot mouthpiece. That's fine by the actor, who nonetheless puts the kibosh on Sean's romantic dreams when he reveals that he's far more comfortable sharing his bed at home with girlfriend-cum-exotic dancer Babylon (Day) than he is with any guy. It's a great set-up, and for the first two-thirds or so of the film it works exceptionally well as a jaundiced satire on the world of gay porn. The film's wry tone is rarely coy about its risqué subject matter (although virtually all of the sex -- including Sean's title role -- is performed off-screen), but when Johnny's popularity begins to fade and his involvement with drugs correspondingly begins to spiral out of control, The Fluffer makes a tonal shift that's far too abrupt and out of place (there's a South-of-the-border flight, imploding relationships, and assorted other disasters) in what has previously been a relatively tame and humorous film. Third-act problems aside, the film is spot-on in its mocking critique of porn (queer or otherwise), showing up the bizarre, self-indulgent backlot horror stories that are as much a part of the sleazy Hollywood mythos as any of those of the major studios. All this, and cameos from Debbie Harry and Ron Jeremy, too.