Whatever It Takes

There are plenty of stories about 'paying your dues' to succeed in Hollywood -- they're as old as the movies themselves -- and while some are genuinely funny or just odd, all too many of them are really stories of the casting couch and what women have to do to succeed. Whatever It Takes follows the journey Alicia (Robbie Barnes, Beyond Repair) takes through the City of Angels -- in this case a misnomer if ever there was one -- as she struggles for the fame she's always craved.

But she also knows she'll never be happy in a $10 an hour job, even to pay the rent while waiting for her big break, so she's taken a different path. She works for Robert (Bobby Jaggerjack), who runs an escort service, and yes, that means she's a high-class prostitute. Her best friend Molly (Tiffani Hilton), trying to become a makeup artist, wants to get in on all this money but isn't convinced it's so easy to compartmentalize as Alicia claims.

You see, Alicia's boyfriend, Kevin (Joe Gotschall) doesn't know what she does when she isn't auditioning, as she's gone to great lengths to hide it from him. Kevin is trying to make it as a singer-songwriter and adores Alicia even as he fears he'll never deserve her, often caught up in a circle of self-doubt that has lost him at least one good shot at a record deal.

But one of Alicia's most regular customers, Lonnie (Jesse Dillon Sorrells, also of Beyond Repair), is becoming more demanding lately, trying to take her out on dates and being uncomfortably pushy. He has money, though, and is willing to pay, even offering to get Alicia auditions for good roles. He's a Director of Photography, he says, and has worked on some big movies so he's got connections. Alicia is suspicious, naturally, but it's hard to resist even the hope of a lucky break.

Unfortunately Lonnie's idea of helping her also requires making her his, and he's equally willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his dream, whether that means bribery, blackmail, or the ruthless use of his Hollywood connections to bully any hopeful actresses he takes a liking to. Worse, Lonnie is more than happy to play rough and not worry about the consequences. When an 'audition' with Alicia gets out of hand, she finds herself caught up in a very different sort of struggle.

It's a film that's all too relevant right now, highlighting the vast difference in power and influence that so often exists between women in Hollywood and their male counterparts. Alicia is no pushover -- she sets boundaries and isn't afraid to speak up when something makes her uncomfortable -- but she's also an unknown who's breaking the law and isn't physically a match for Lonnie. He might not be able make or break entire careers like some industry predators, but he knows full well that if it comes down to it he'll be believed more than Alicia will.

Even aside from its echoes of the evening news, it's a wonderfully realistic film. There's a strong romantic storyline, of course, but the relationships between Alicia, Molly, and Robert are equally strong and well-portrayed, something your average Hollywood flick doesn't bother with. The slow deterioration of Alicia's situation is also expertly handled, as the once confident young woman is eventually forced to admit that everything's gotten out of her control, much of the time so gradually she never realized what was happening.

It's a chillingly convincing tale worth four and a half out of five, portraying all sides of the movie industry -- good, bad, and indifferent -- with equal candor. Molly and Alicia joke about the sexism of their careers even as they fall victim to it, forced to accept it as inevitable even while trying to convince themselves they can rise above it. Yet the movie is also a solid, tense thriller about the dangers of obsession that can affect anyone, anywhere, without warning. It may be only one woman's story, but it's also every woman's story.

Image: 
Robert and Alicia have lunch. Better enjoy the quiet moments while you can.

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