Skinamax flicks usually fall into two categories: Art House Tease and Late Night Sleaze. The Lover definitely falls into the former category. It was helmed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, who also directed Quest for Fire. I don’t know about you, but the caveman humping scenes in Quest for Fire were a lot hotter than anything in this movie.
Jane March stars as a young French girl who meets an older Chinese dude (Tony Leung) on her way to boarding school. Before long, they wind up having a torrid love affair. When her family learns of this, she immediately becomes the black sheep of the clan. She also gets ostracized from her classmates too. Will she give up her life for her lover? Will you care?
The Lover has some parallels with Emmanuelle in that it’s about a young French girl who experiences a sexual awakening. That’s about all they have in common though. Whereas even the worst of the Emmanuelle movies has something in it to raise your pulse; The Lover is pretty much a cold fish.
The problem here was that Annaud doesn’t really know how to film a love scene. There’s a scene early on where March and Leung hold hands that’s pretty hilarious. Annaud’s hilariously lingers on their interlocked hands and films them the way most directors would film an orgasm. But when it finally comes time for them to get down to business, he keeps the camera halfway across the room! Ridiculous.
Jane March is plenty hot and gets naked a lot (she went on to get naked some more in the Bruce Willis WTF erotic thriller, Color of Night), although she does have a generous portion of teeth. Her acting leaves something to be desired however. Likewise, Tony Leung is dull and bland as her lover. And since their central relationship isn’t involving, it’s hard for us to really care about their characters (well, when their clothes are on at least).
None of this would really matter if the sex scenes were any good. Well, they aren’t BAD per se, but there just isn’t very many of them. Throughout the film’s 116 minute running time there are only five Guy on Girl scenes. That means there is a sex scene every (yikes!) 23 minutes. That’s fucking pathetic by Skinamax standards. To add insult to injury, there’s no variety to the sex as they all involve March and Leung and are set mostly in the missionary position. Even worse is the fact that an old woman (who is supposed to be March’s character in the present) narrates over the sex and says shit like, “He makes love as if it was his profession”; effectively killing any chance at a boner.
And speaking of boner-killing, let’s talk about…
HENRY AND JUNE (1990) **
Henry and June is notable for being the first film ever to be rated NC-17. I’ve seen a few NC-17 movies in my time and I’ve got to say; it’s no Showgirls. I have a feeling it was only rated NC-17 because no one under 17 would have the patience to sit through this boring flick.
Henry and June isn’t really about Henry and June. It’s more about how Anais Nin (Maria de Medeiros) starts writing smut. She strikes up a friendship with American author Henry Miller (Fred Ward) and his wife June (Uma Thurman) and they start hanging out a lot. After a while, Anais winds up balling both of them and in the process, they wind up inspiring each other’s writing.
Directed by Phillip (Invasion of the Body Snatchers ’78) Kaufman, Henry and June has to be the unsexiest movie about sex I’ve ever seen. It’s almost like Kaufman got too wrapped up in making a classy flick that he forgot to deliver the smutty goods. I mean you’re making a movie about one of the most famous fornicators of his time here! The least you could’ve done made it a LITTLE bit sexy.
The acting is a bit all over the place. Fred Ward kills it. Knocks it out of the park. His performance is easily the best thing about the flick (non-nudity related, that is.) But Uma Thurman is pretty annoying with her husky mannish Noo Yawk accent. De Medeiros is cute and waifish, although she’s really not a strong enough actress to carry the whole film. Luckily, the supporting cast is top notch and features everyone from Kevin Spacey, to Richard E. Grant, to Brigitte Lahaie (from all those Jean Rollin movies). And when you get bored, you can have fun trying to spot Gary Oldman in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. (He was also married to Thurman at the time.)
But Skinamax-A-Palooza wasn’t invented for acting. It was invented as a showcase of skin. And solely judging on that, Henry and June is a big disappointment (especially considering the NC-17 rating). Throughout its bloated 136 minute running time there are only six sex scenes; three Guy on Girl scenes and three Girl on Girl. There were really a couple more than that, but I’m only counting the scenes in which you actually see something worth seeing. That means we only get a sex scene every 23 minutes or so. To make matters worse, Uma doesn’t even get naked! What’s up with that?
Even though Henry and June is dull for the most part, I will say that it gets better as it goes along. And what I mean by that is that the best sex and the dramatic scenes happen in the third act. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a long wait before you get to them.
Thurman and De Medeiros later went on to co-star in Pulp Fiction.