Friday March 22, 1996
Spike Lee's "Girl 6" sounds better than it plays, which is kind of poetic justice for a film about phone sex. The topic of one woman's immersion in that murky nether world certainly gets your attention, and in its star, Theresa Randle, Lee has a talented actress who can project the warmth, vulnerability and sensitivity needed for audience involvement.
But though directors like to feel they can handle any kind of material, this is not really true. Sometimes the wrong person tries to tell the right story, and the result is very much like "Girl 6": baffling, sketchy and unsatisfying.
Though there are laughs in it, "Girl 6," despite Fox Searchlight's determined efforts to advertise it that way, is not a comedy. As written by Suzan-Lori Parks, it's a downbeat character piece about an aspiring actress named Judy who gets considerably more than she anticipated when she signs up to be a woman with a number on a phone-sex service. While Lee is a skillful director, he's also more coldly analytical than emotional, and it is not his style to get us to feel for this woman as much as we should.
Instead of empathy we're given all manner of visual razzmatazz, a variety of looks and even film stocks that emphasize the fragmented nature of the director's storytelling. Rather than draw viewers in, these techniques distance us from the story, making it difficult to care about Judy at the same time we're being told we should.
"Girl 6" opens with Judy at an audition reciting, as it turns out, a monologue from Lee's earlier "She's Gotta Have It." The director, an idiot auteur named Q.T. (played by Quentin Tarantino, one of the film's several spurious celebrity cameos), insists she take off her top, which makes Judy so uncomfortable she walks out, losing both her acting teacher and her agent in the process.
Desperate for money, Judy investigates newspaper ads for places like Ina's Friendly Phone Line. Blessed with a young voice and an ability to role-play and make her callers feel loved, she proves to be a phone-sex natural, the prize protege of Lil (a strong performance by Jenifer Lewis), the woman in charge.
With her entire social life consisting of a kleptomaniac ex-husband (Isiah Washington) she's trying to avoid and a sports memorabilia-obsessed neighbor (Lee himself), Judy's reality is pretty sketchy to begin with, and soon her phone-sex work takes over her life.
Despite the warnings of her fellow phoners (including Debi Mazar and Naomi Campbell), Judy starts to get off on what she's doing, displaying all the signs of a full-blown addiction and coming to believe she has real relationships with the men she talks to.
All this tends to sound more interesting than it should. For one thing, "Girl 6" shows us the customers who call Judy up (they're all shot on video, which the movie seems to think appropriately diminishes them), universally an unconvincing and sorry lot with fantasies to match. And the transformations Judy goes through as she becomes Girl 6 are more indicated than worked out. Without the force of Randle's personality to carry us through, this film would be even more incoherent than it already is.
Not helping either is "Girl 6's" determinedly screwy structure. Without any introduction or explanation, the film throws in what are apparently Judy's acting fantasies (which include being Dorothy Dandridge in "Carmen Jones" and Pam Grier in "Foxy Brown"). These are entertaining, but it is never clear what they're doing here and their presence interrupts the story's momentum.
The same holds true for a subplot about a little girl who has to fight for her life after falling down an elevator shaft. These scenes creak from bad writing and direction and the metaphorical parallels we are supposed to feel between this situation and Judy's simply do not come off.
Too slight to be taken seriously and too off-putting (especially when the phone callers get hostile and the work demeaning) to be funny, "Girl 6" feels like the first draft of a potentially interesting project. Those who remember Jennifer Jason Leigh's marvelous work as the phone-sex mom in "Short Cuts" know there is dramatic potential in this bizarre world. It just hasn't been made good on here.
Girl 6, 1996. R, for explicit sex dialogue and some nudity. A 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks production, released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Director Spike Lee. Producer Spike Lee. Executive producer Jon Kilik. Screenplay Suzan-Lori Parks. Cinematographer Malik Hassan Sayeed. Editor Sam Pollard. Costumes Sandra Hernandez. Music Prince. Production design Ina Mayhew. Set decorator Paul E. Weathered. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. Theresa Randle as Judy/Girl 6. Isiah Washington as Shoplifter. Spike Lee as Jimmy. Debi Mazar as Girl 39. Jenifer Lewis as Lil.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times