Sex work double-feature: ‘Jezebel’ and ‘Red Dog’

Numa Perrier and Tiffany Tenille in Jezebel (2019)

Jezebel (2020)

Directed by Numa Perrier

40-year-old Haitian-American artist Numa Perrier wrote, directed, and starred in “Jezebel,” a semi-autobiographical drama of her life (recently distributed in the U.S. by Netflix). Newcomer Tiffany Tenille plays Tiffany (the role inspired by Perrier’s life), a 19-year-old living with her big sister Sabrina (Perrier), plus her brother (Stephen Barrington), little sister (Rockwelle Dortch), and Sabrina’s boyfriend David (Bobby Field), in a cramped Las Vegas apartment in the late 1990s. When Sabrina, a phone sex operator, introduces Tiffany to the world of cam girl work (still a new profession at that time), Tiffany is hesitant but excited for the prospect of making her own money. But Tiffany’s new job comes with a learning curve, and it causes a strain in the relationship with her sister.

“Jezebel” is disappointing. Perrier’s script is too loose on the details and doesn’t care to paint a full picture of any of its characters. There are so many facets of Tiffany’s job and life that go untouched. Had they been examined, they might have informed her decisions or let audiences know why they should care. And the dialogue exposes Perrier’s inexperience. It gives me no pleasure to criticize a young filmmaker’s debut…but watching “Jezebel” gave me no pleasure either.

The lone bright spot, in my mind, is Tiffany Tenille’s vulnerable performance. If offered the right roles, she might have a bright future in acting. But I wouldn’t recommend this film for any other reason.

3.5/10

Red Dog (2019)

Red Dog (2020)

Directed by Casey Pinkston

Country music artist Luke Dick has written songs for the likes of Miranda Lambert, Eric Church, and Kasey Musgraves, but before all that success he was just a kid in Oklahoma City being raised by a strip club dancer and her four husbands (or was it five?). Dick’s early life has become the subject of the documentary “Red Dog,” which was the name of the saloon where his mother danced in the 1970s. Dick interviewed his mom, plus his biological father, two of his former step-fathers, and several former dancers, bartenders, and bouncers at the Red Dog, about their experiences at the saloon. But from the start, you can tell that Dick isn’t too worried about where his documentary will go, as long as there are plenty of stories along the way. Instead of being about the strip club, “Red Dog” is more about a handful of people’s experiences with the strip club over a certain amount of time more than forty years ago. “Red Dog” becomes more about nostalgia than anything else, as these women and men in their sixties reminisce about the past—even the drug-fueled, abuse-filled parts of it.

Luke Dick’s mom, Kim, is truly a character. The chainsmoking former dancer cursed her way through her interviews with reckless (and hilarious) abandon. She felt free to speak her mind, regardless of how uncomfortable it might have made her son on the other side of the camera. She reminded me of Roseanne Barr, but back before Roseanne was awful. If it wasn’t for Kim, “Red Dog” would have been much less thoughtful and much less interesting.

Everyone from the Red Dog Saloon’s notorious past has a story to tell, apparently. But their stories don’t add up to something whole. “Red Dog” might have told a story about the history of the saloon, but instead it felt content to use the stripper joint only as a jumping-off point to tell the often-turbulent life stories of a small handful of former employees, who were all connected by love, hate, or some mix of both. It’s a fun-enough waste of 90 minutes, but it doesn’t make for a polished documentary.

4.5/10

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