Imagine if absurdist Swedish filmmaker Roy Anderssen hired Lena Dunham to write and star in one of his films. Writer/director/star Joanna Arnow delivers all of her lines in total deadpan with her ass and tits on full display for a good chunk of THE FEELING THAT THE TIME FOR DOING SOMETHING HAS PASSED; much of the story is inspired by her own experiences, and she’s hired her real life friends and parents to star in the film with her. The result is more charming than you might think, and undoubtedly a surrealist laugh riot.
Ann (Arnow) is a mid-30s Brooklyn office worker who has been stuck in the same on again, off again casual BDSM relationship for ten years. She goes to her dull job, visits her parents, third wheels with her friends, and serves Allen (Scott Cohen), her “master,” who is the less charming, somehow even more afraid of commitment Mr. Big to Ann’s Carrie Bradshaw. Their non-attachment is core to the nature of the agreement, but once you’ve been seeing someone fairly consistently for ten years, how casual can it be? Sure, they’ve both seen other people, but they always seem to drift back to each other somehow. “It’s like we were destined to be together,” Ann says to Allen once they are reunited after a period of separation. “No, you just changed your username,” he responds in monotone. “I didn’t know it was you.”
Joanna Arnow has been a woman about town in the independent NYC filmmaking scene for a decade (around enough to be recognized by Sean Baker, who executive produces), and there’s a clear vein of inspiration running through her work: closely psychoanalyzing her own sexual life through the use of her camera. 2013’s I HATE MYSELF 🙂 is a warts-and-all documentary which chronicles Arnow’s dysfunctional romantic relationship with reactionary poet James Kepple, while 2015’s side splittingly hilarious fictional short (and Berlin winner) BAD AT DANCING follows a woman with zero boundaries or friends as she chips away at her roommate’s sex life. She stars in all of her films about women with sexual problems, but she doesn’t frame it in a girlboss Amy Shumer “I’m going to talk about my pussy now” kind of way. It’s more understated than that, even when her pussy is, in fact, all the way out. Yes, Arnow is willing to “go there,” and then go even further, but she doesn’t really talk about it. Her pussy is just out without her making a big deal of it, which is way funnier.
Instead of provoking for provocation’s sake, Arnow highlights the everyday mundanity of sex with her stone cold sense of humor. It’s difficult to think of another film that features explicit BDSM sex scenes shot in a very matter of fact way; generally, onscreen BDSM is flashy, exciting, and yes, dangerous. A far cry from Mr. Grey’s sex dungeon, Ann’s sex with the masters she meets online is rote at best and sketchy at worst. “Glamorous” is not an adjective that comes to mind.
“Do you think people can change?” Ann asks Allen at the beginning of the film, lying in bed. She is completely naked, humping his leg; he is fully clothed. Allen doesn’t know what he thinks, but I get the feeling that Arnow thinks that though people have some capacity for change, they stay fundamentally the same. Ann is afforded a really great chance at breaking away from her old pattern with Allen, but ultimately doesn’t take it. Humans are creatures of comfort and habit, why mess with that.