SXSW Film Review: Sell/Buy/Date

Sarah Jones' sex work play becomes a self-analytical film


This new film iteration of Sell/Buy/Date has its roots in creator Sarah Jones’ 2016 off Broadway production.

The Tony Award-winning performer, producer, director and writer (Jones received a Tony for her previous show Bridge & Tunnel) re-mounted her one-woman show about sex workers a couple of years later in Los Angeles before announcing plans to adapt Sell/Buy/Date for the screen.

Everything had been smooth sailing until then; Meryl Streep, Rashida Jones, and Laverne Cox were on board to produce, but then Cox very publicly pulled out, citing her objections and those of others employed in the sex-work industry to Jones’ “civilian” status. A social-media storm developed over who has the right to tell these stories and advance the perspectives of sex workers. Sarah Jones and the other fictional characters she created for her one-woman play were left in the lurch. But they eventually found their way to a happy ending with this film presentation, which is not a direct adaptation of the play but, rather, a jumping-off point that includes further first-person research and documentation.

In addition to herself, Jones plays four other characters who work as her assistants: a mid-80s grandma, a college-age student majoring in sex-work studies, a feisty women’s advocate, and a limo driver. The technical work involved to create several characters in a single scene is admirable enough, but Jones keeps the film’s primary focus on comedy and illumination.

In the wake of the social-media blowback, Jones and her team embark on a road trip to speak with and learn from industry professionals. The trip takes them to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and the desert. Discussions about the distinctions between agency and power follow, as does a tour of the Chicken Ranch, Nevada’s famous legal brothel, and conversations with individuals who prosper from and others who merely subsist on their sex work. As her critics requested, Jones lets the informative insiders do most of the talking in this film version while she and her fictional characters engage the audience and keep things lively and provocative. Sell/Buy/Date is a project that ably combines information and entertainment with a goal of greater understanding.


Visions, World Premiere

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