SXSW 2022: ‘Sell/Buy/Date’ Lives Up To Its “Unorthodoc” Title

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SellBuyDate Review

Sell/Buy/Date is a documentary written and directed by Sarah Jones, inspired by her play of the same name. The “unorthodoc”, as Jones cleverly titles it, focuses on her efforts to make a film version of Sell/Buy/Date — which draws the ire of sex workers as they feel they should be consulted rather than have a civilian tell their story. Jones embarks on a trip from New York to Nevada, speaking with established sex workers and other creative minds while also juggling her manager/ex-boyfriend, her mother, and an incoming firestorm from social media.

In a case of art literally imitating life, the documentary did spark controversy when it was first announced – to the point where Laverne Cox, who was slated to serve as an executive producer, cut all ties with the project. The film still boasts some powerhouse producers, namely Rashida Jones and Meryl Streep, but now it has Jones discussing sex work with a variety of sex workers. Through their stories, a picture of the complexities of sex work is painted – especially when it comes to how differently BIPOC/transgender/indigenous sex workers are treated. With other films like Love and Leashes exploring the intricacies of sex, I’m glad films are moving past what was once considered “taboo” and how people view sex differently. What might be “power” for some is a minefield for others.

The “unorthodoc” part comes from the rather clever idea of having Jones’ characters from the Sell/Buy/Date play flit in and out of the narrative. These characters are, in no particular order: Lorraine, a Jewish grandmother; Bella, a college sophomore studying sex work; Nereida, a Puerto Rican/Dominican activist; and Rashid, a Uber driver/entrepreneur. Jones plays all of these characters, which leads to conversations that are hilarious one minute and heartfelt the next. The hilarious parts come from Lorraine, who sneaks non-kosher food, and Rashid, who’s always trying to mack. The heartfelt parts mostly concern Nereida and Bella, who essentially represent Jones’ dueling instincts. Nereida insists that Jones gets more perspective, while Bella encourages her to try and get the movie made. The fact that Jones can infuse all of these characters with their own personalities is a testament to her talent.

She’s also helped by a talented crew, including editor Melissa McCoy and cinematographer Joshua Z. Weinstein. Thanks to their work, it actually feels less like Jones is playing different parts and more like five people are all sharing the same space. Weinstein also captures a stunning shot that features dark thunderclouds with flashes of lightning near the film’s end -representing the inner turmoil Jones is going through. Other scenes, featuring conversations with Ilana Glazer and Rosario Dawson, eschew the usual handheld cam for steadier shots – with the camera centering on people’s faces as they have deep and often difficult discussions about sex.

Sell/Buy/Date is one of the most interesting documentaries I’ve ever seen, as it uses a creative way to tackle the complex subject of sex work. It’s funny, it isn’t afraid to confront some hard truths, and it’s unexpectedly emotional. I hope that it receives a wider platform because it’s a film that I think everyone should see.

Sell/Buy/Date had its world premiere at the SXSW 2022 Film Festival.


Sell/Buy/Date
9/10

TL;DR

Sell/Buy/Date is one of the most interesting documentaries I’ve ever seen, as it uses a creative way to tackle the complex subject of sex work. It’s funny, it isn’t afraid to confront some hard truths, and it’s unexpectedly emotional. I hope that it receives a wider platform because it’s a film that I think everyone should see.