Touch and Go

Melissa Anderson on She’s Lost Control

Anja Marquardt, She’s Lost Control, 2014, HD video, color, sound, 90 minutes. Ronah (Brooke Bloom).

SHE’S LOST CONTROL, writer-director Anja Marquardt’s first feature, clocks in at ninety minutes—which, coincidentally or not, is also the duration of a typical appointment with sex surrogate Ronah (Brooke Bloom), the film’s aspirational protagonist. Some of Ronah’s clients have been referred by a psychotherapist, Dr. Alan Cassidy (Dennis Boutsikaris), who feels that certain of his male patients require both the talking and touching cure. Much like a typical therapy session, She’s Lost Control is marked by repetition, clichés, preposterousness, and occasional insight.

Marquardt’s movie, chilly and remote, if studiedly so, shares some subject matter with The Sessions (2012), a gooey docudrama about a man long confined to an iron lung who seeks out a sex surrogate so that he won’t die a virgin, but little of that mawkish project’s sensibility. Yet despite its austerity, She’s Lost Control isn’t immune to narrative improbabilities, most egregiously so in its final-act paroxysms of violence. The movie is additionally burdened by the obviousness and easy metaphors that attach to many films about outsourced intimacy; this deadweight is also found in Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience (2009), which, like Marquardt’s film, whose heroine gazes out a window at a still-under-construction One World Trade Center, takes place in New Gilded Age New York.

Other, less iconic Gotham edifices are brazenly defiled in She’s Lost Control. The severity of the psychosexual problems of Ronah’s latest referral from Dr. Cassidy, a handsome, bearded nurse anesthetist named Johnny (Marc Menchaca), who spends his off-hours caring for his wheelchair-bound sister, is signaled during the film’s opening minutes: The camera, which had been trained closely on the back of Johnny’s head, captures him in long shot as the butch strawberry-blond, his body nearly flush with a building’s exterior, jerks off in broad daylight. “We’re just gonna create a safe space,” Ronah, bedecked in Talbots chic, tells her new client during their initial meeting in a hotel room—its decor as crushingly drab as that of Ronah’s apartment. In the film’s most absorbing moments, Ronah demonstrates the specifics behind that hackneyed expression, her patient, step-by-step simulation of physical intimacy including an exercise that involves touching only from the fingertips to the elbow.

Yet too often, She’s Lost Control hazily drifts from scene to scene, invested in examining the exhausted topic of what happens when a sex professional finds that the rigid boundary between work and off-duty pleasure has become uncomfortably porous. (The scenario dates back to at least 1971, the year of Alan J. Pakula’s Klute, a distant relative of Marquardt’s film; the Jane Fonda–starring neo-noir vehicle, its paranoia rooted partly in anxiety over second-wave feminism, is one of the few to have explored the topic fruitfully.) Bloom, for her part, is adept at maintaining the long silences required of her character, a near-friendless graduate student in behavioral psychology accustomed to chopping vegetables for dinners for one. Sometimes, though, the quiet reveals more than Ronah’s solitude: The film has run out of things to say.

She’s Lost Control opens in New York on March 20 and in Los Angeles on March 27.