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May 27, 2001 - The Center of the World, Directed by Wayne Wang
Review by Cathy Soussloff

What do computers and sex have in common?  Well sex, I guess.  At least that is the premise of Wayne Wang’s wannabe steamy film, The Center of the World.  The center for HIM, computer nerd Richard, is the computer screen.  For HER?  You guessed it, the G-spot.  This spin on the globalization of sex and IT takes place in Las Vegas, site of virtually everything money can buy, including sex of course.  Richard, played by puppy dog-like Peter Sarsgaardi, hires Florence, played by reedy Molly Parker, for three nights.  Back home, somewhere in California, Florence works her stuff at a strip club so she play in a grunge girl-band.  She has a commitment to art.  Back home Richard works his stuff on three screens and a cell phone, worries about an IPO, and fantasizes about sex with the aid of some porn sites.  He has a commitment to himself.

If the film were really about virtual versus actual sex, or alienation brought about by the digital age, then the astonishing filmmaking would have supported a plot and a point.  Instead, the digitally shot and hand held video must vie with the flashing neon flatness of the Strip for the effects of virtuality, with nothing in the story to motivate the artsiness of Wang’s use of the newish medium.  I guess every guy can own a digital cam but not everyone can use its visual properties to make the form of the finished film more meaningful.  I mean, you should see my brother’s home movies if you want to see saturated greens, fuzzy lights, and shots streaked by the movements of the handheld Sony.  The point is that there needs to be a point if you are going to make a big deal out of the medium itself, rather than naturalize it into the audience’s space/time perceptions.  Wang sure can sling the cam, but in the end, as Shakespeare said, it signifies nothing.

Having said that, I wish I could say more about the story of The Center of the World but I am stumped.  Yes, there are a few wonderful scenes with Florence’s friend and former lover played by the compellingly bruised Carla Gugino.  Talk about the grunge aesthetic!  And it looks for a moment like the lesbian love interest thing is going to really take off  and mess with the flat take on heterosexual soft porn that makes up most of the rest of the film.  But in the end, it, passion and lovein the story and for the characters of the storyend up having about as much presence as a blank computer screen.  If that is Wang’s message then he sure spent a lot of time filming Molly Parker lap dancing to make it.   Love is hell, someone once said, but sex should be something.  When Florence reveals that the ultimate high is doing all alone, who can blame her?  She isn’t alienated at all, just tired of all those angst-ridden guys filming her.  Of course, pleasure matters, Wayne Wang, I just wish you had gotten out of her face for at least a minute so we could enjoy her enjoying it.  Listeners, you may already be convinced that the center of the world is right where Florence thinks it is, but you’ll never agree that Wayne’s film has anything to do with it.
The Center of the World plays at the Nickelodeon.  For KUSP and the Film Gang, this is Cathy Soussloff having fun at the movies.

Copyright Cathy Soussloff