Film Review: Finding Bliss

An idealistic East Coast film school grad encounters the L.A. porn business in this witless low-budget comedy. More exit-rated than X-rated, it’s pretty limp.

Finding Bliss is based upon American Film Institute-educated Julie Davis’ actual experiences finding herself editing erotica (for a cable channel) instead of making great cinema. As her indie does capture some realities of the adult film world (the types, the milieu, the sleaze, even some frontal nudity), maybe some curious viewers who want a guilt-free glimpse into the muck might venture to theatres. The more demanding and discerning just won’t come.

But let’s cut to the chaste. The romantic comedy has prudish, even virginal 25-year-old Jody Balaban (Leelee Sobieski), a starry-eyed NYU film grad new to L.A., dying to make her first film. Of course, no one is interested in her career goals or script, so an offer for work as a film editor at Grind Productions is welcome and grabbed.

Although an award-winning student, Jody’s a slow learner. The company name doesn’t set off alarms, nor does tough, hard-selling Irene Fox (Kristen Johnston), the former porn star turned businesswoman who runs this porn factory.

With only Jody’s suspicions so far aroused, Fox does a sales job, telling the ingénue that Grind, producing adult films, aims to make a real movie that can play art houses. It’s just up to Jody to bring her NYU skills and female sensibility to the material and, as we are to understand, somehow make a silk purse out of sow manure.

Meant to be both ambitious and desperate, the comfortably middle-class Jody, her strict Jewish background notwithstanding, takes the bait. The real carrot is that Grind is loaded with all the right studio spaces and equipment for Jody to make her film. She’ll do porn by day, art by night. Morals be damned and creativity be praised!

The arrangement seems to work. At night, Jody readies her own semi-autographical oeuvre. By day, she overcomes some unsettling discoveries about her icky workplace environment—the sexy sets, props, performers, crummy dialogue, etc. Most significantly, Jody gets to meet and collaborate with Jeff Drake (Matt Davis), a smoothie of a porn director who is a master of this X universe.

Likeable, nice-looking and young enough, Jeff had once shared Jody’s idealism about making cinema art. Now blessed with insight into the real mean world of moviemaking, the wise, cynical skin-and-moans auteur is determined to wean Jody away from her naïve, prudish ways and sexual hang-ups.

Ever focused on her film, Jody casts about and finds sweet and lovely Laura (Denise Richards, in an ironic casting choice or maybe not), an innocent like Jody, to star. More than mere thesp, Laura serves as Jody’s inspiration to lose her hang-ups and give in to her attraction to Jeff. Jody even learns to metaphorically embrace the hardcore performers, including sweetly gay porn actor Richard “Dick” Harder (Jamie Kennedy), who float around Grind and actually give this movie a much-needed lift. And attention, feminists, she even gets into the porn. As Finding Bliss is billed as a rom-com, it’s no surprise that Jody and Jeff evolve beyond film theory and work sessions.

Sobieski, who has played smaller roles in much bigger films like 88 Minutes, The Wicker Man and Public Enemies, lacks the charisma that might have rescued bland Jody. Instead, Denise Richards must carry what little spark there is. Even Matt Davis as the porn-meister turned savior is flat and predictable.

Jody aside, the name “Balaban” has a long Hollywood history. What it’s doing here is a bit of a mystery. But it’s no mystery and even quite fitting what hardcore vet Ron Jeremy is doing here in a cameo.