For certain gay men, there are dream jobs--Versailles curator, New York Times food critic, Elton John's personal shopper, fluffer. Let's explain that last one: A fluffer is someone who prepares the male talent in porno movies so as to help them appear to fullest advantage. This is the employment Sean (Michael Cunio) finds himself undertaking when he stumbles into the Men of Janus studio one day. His real object is to meet the man of his fantasies, porn star Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney). An effective working relationship between the two begins, but Johnny is unfortunately straight (or, in industry parlance, "only gay for pay") and involved with stripper Julie (Roxanne Day). Haunted by childhood memories as well as his obsession, Sean finds himself unable to form normal gay relationships. Meanwhile, Johnny proves beauty is merely skin-deep as he screws over not only Julie, but his boss (Robert Walden), as well.

Tawdry as hell? Sure, and yet this scrappy little film is informed with a lot of truth about not only the Viagara-ridden porn business, but obsessional human behavior. The presence of actual porn veteran Wash West as writer-director undoubtedly accounts for the ringing verisimilitude of The Fluffer. It's often very funny, with the kind of humor which springs directly from life. And, when a life is led in such a world as this, its basic elements--sex, love, money--are stripped down to the basics and the lack of bullshit is positively bracing. A black lesbian assistant (Adina Porter) assuages Sean's doubts about being a fluffer where no emotions are involved: "You just go through it. Women understand that from the get-go." There's a director's dismissive appraisal of a performer: "He's a dribbler." Sean commiserates about loving the unattainable with an older gay barfly, who, eternally involved with married straight men, observes, "It's the distance that gets you hooked, but it eventually takes its toll."

West and co-director Richard Glatzer are hyper-aware of the dangerous line that can be crossed when people worship all too dearly the physical fantasy embodied by porn stars. Johnny Rebel is a pure shit (and is perfectly played by Gurney with typical rough-trade huskiness of voice and physique). However, that doesn't prevent him from controlling the lives of Sean and Julie, as well as a number of the oft-mentioned "Midwest farmers" who comprise a target market of porno films. Thankfully, however, the film avoids being message-y in any way and climaxes in a refreshingly open ended fashion.

Cunio gives a nicely understated performance as the unsure, ever-reactive Sean and is very funny when, high on his first hit of crystal meth at a party, he babbles about the pornographic aspects of Vertigo. He's good, too, looking at some abysmal queer art in a gallery: "I don't think I want to be gay any longer." Day is terrifically appealing, never more so than when she gives Sean an expert lapdance, even when she knows his whole story the entire time. Deborah Harry appears as a lesbian stripclub owner and is convincingly hard-bitten, lending Julie money for an abortion. ("But pay me back within the week.")

--David Noh