Lie with Me isn’t the kind of film you watch for the witty dialogue. It’s all about the eye candy—artful apartments, cute thrifty outfits, and sex. But it’s also about reversing the masculine gaze, and about Leila (Lauren Lee Smith) “controlling the moment,” as director Clément Virgo puts it on his DVD commentary with Smith. “I always wanted to make sure that she was in control,” says Virgo, “because as a man directing this film, I was terrified that the women would crucify me.”
Leila does control the moment, picking guys up and pushing them away at will—at least until she falls for the one guy who makes her “feel.” If there’s one thing Leila knows, it’s how to have sex, but now she’s lead to wonder, “How do you have sex with someone you love?” It’s at this point that she begins to lose control, despite Virgo’s claims to the contrary. Unable to stop thinking about David, Leila’s behaviour becomes stalkeresque as she is consumed by passion.
Like the novella by Tamara Faith Berger on which it’s based, Lie With Me blurs the boundaries between pornography and art. But despite its approximation of soft-core porn, there’s something surprisingly sweet about it. Leila meets David (Eric Balfour) at a party, and they’re immediately drawn to one another. In the parking lot, though each is getting it on with someone else, they can’t take their eyes off each other. After their inevitable tryst, some 25 minutes into the film, it’s hard to imagine what remains to be said. The film doesn’t even pretend to have a storyline to justify all the sex, and there’s very little dialogue. “Admittedly,” says Virgo on the commentary, “not a lot happens in this movie, but that’s very intentional.” Instead, Virgo wanted to give himself the challenge of telling the story visually. Indeed, it’s in the visual chemistry between the two characters that the surprising sweetness emerges.
As David, Balfour conveys the same intensity that made Gabe, the character he played on Six Feet Under, so compelling. David comes off as a little less creepy and a lot sexier than Gabe, though still a bad boy. David has “intimacy issues,” as his jealous girlfriend (Polly Shannon) is quick to tell Leila. In a seeming attempt to make the characters a little less two-dimensional, David and Leila both revealed to have family problems. While Leila’s family backstory comes across as too contrived to elicit any real sympathy in the viewer, David’s caring for his aging father (Don Francks, another actor who’s not afraid to get naked) shows that there’s more to David than his talents in the bedroom.
But it is these talents of Leila and David that become the focus of the film. In his commentary, Virgo expresses concern about “authenticity,” and it’s this “authentic” vein that causes the film to approximate porn. To retain this authenticity, Virgo attempts to make the point of view as subjective as possible, with cameras following Smith and let her “control” the shot. “I never wanted to objectify you,” he tells Smith in the commentary. Maybe Virgo doesn’t quite realize this desire, but Smith is no more objectified than Balfour: Lie with Me practices equal opportunity objectification in an uncompromising celebration of both female and male sexuality.
It’s also refreshing to see a film where Toronto is used as Toronto, a successful outcome of Virgo’s concern with authenticity. With recognizable landmarks on Queen Street and Bloor Street and a soundtrack featuring Toronto indie darlings Broken Social Scene, the film attempts to write a love letter to Toronto like that Manhattan wrote to New York. If it doesn’t accomplish this, it’s because the focus is on the bedroom, not the streets.
Though Virgo’s commentary is a welcome exploration of his motives in creating a near-porn flick, Smith spends most of the track giggling. During the shooting of the film, however, Smith had some suggestions regarding her character, Virgo tells us, that helped to ensure she “controlled” the scene. David sees Leila in the street and chases her, in a scene stolen from Last Tango in Paris. They end up in a park and Leila climbs into a big plastic tube that’s part of the kiddie playground. Rather than sitting passively while David gazes at her, at Smith’s suggestion, reportedly, Leila coyly shows him her undies, making the first advance and in fact scaring David away.
In creating this character, Virgo wanted to make a love story “that encompassed a romantic and a sexual” element without punishing the promiscuous female character. Smith adds, “You don’t have to be really screwed up to enjoy sex.” But neither of these characters are exactly the poster children for mental health or functional relationships, and Leila’s emotional trauma after finally “falling for” a guy does seem like a form of punishment. She’s not exactly “in control” of the situation when she bursts into David’s apartment and he’s busy with his girlfriend. In fact, Leila eventually learns to give up the illusion of control and wait for the guy to return to her, an indication that the film is not quite as progressive as it might initially seem, or as Virgo sees it.