Plot: What’s it about?
Richard (Peter Sarsgaard) is a shy computer genius, who has minimal luck with social events, especially when it comes to females. So when he wishes to fulfill his fantasies, instead of looking for a girlfriend, he decides to look for someone he can hire to handle the tasks. This person turns out to be a stripper named Florence (Molly Parker), who is not a prostitute, but agrees to spend three days with Richard in Las Vegas. In exhange for her presence and services, he will hand over ten thousand dollars in cold, hard cash. She soon lays down some rules however, ones which keep her obligations contained within a certain time period each day and help keep her in check, such as no kissing and the like. As time passes however, the rules start to be tossed to the side and Florence begins to fall for the nerdy, but kind Richard. But as the time starts to wind down and new turns begin to be taken, how will this all end?
The line between erotica and sleaze is a thin one and in some cases, sex even becomes sterile & distant in films, so to make an erotic themed film is no simple task. The Center of the World is director Wayne Wang’s effort and while it has good & bad points, I feel it works out quite well and maintains a nice balance throughout. The focus is on the character movements, but a lot of attention is paid to sex and how the characters approach & deal with the issue, so if you’re offended by sexual images, this isn’t the flick you should rent. The film is presented here in unrated form and is loaded with sexually graphic scenes, so the R rating wouldn’t have been a consideration, unless a lot of material was trimmed. But the sex seems more eerie at times than erotic, thanks to the characters and also the approach used, in terms of technical & storyline forms. Yes, the film has a cold tone and is distant sometimes, but I think that meshes with the material, so I have to think the filmmakers made the right choices there. I do wish some scenes packed more of an emotional punch, but even as it stands, The Center of the World is a more than solid picture. And since Artisan has bowed a nice disc, I see no reason not to recommend this release, but keep in mind the sexual conten, as that could offend some folks.
The choice to shoot The Center of the World on digital video had to be a tough one, but I think director Wayne Wang took the correct path here. Some will complain about how it looks like a home movie, but I think that enhances the atmosphere and makes the on screen action more realistic, since we often feel like we’re there ourselves. Yes, it feels more like voyeurism than film at times, but in this case, that only serves to increase the film’s impact. I do think Wang distances us as audience a little too much, but not to the extent where we lose interest, I don’t think. A little more emotion could have went a long way with The Center of the World, but I don’t think Wang dropped the ball too much with the storyline & characters. Other films directed by Wang include The Joy Luck Club, Anywhere But Here, Smoke, and Chinese Box. The cast here includes Peter Sarsgaard (Desert Blue, Boys Don’t Cry), Carla Gugino (Son in Law, Snake Eyes), and Molly Parker (Waking the Dead, The Five Senses).
Video: How does it look?
The Center of the World is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As this was shot on digital video, the print used is spotless and shows no flaws, but some inherent issues do surface. The amount of detail is amazing, but in an erotic film like this one, seeing all the imperfections on the cast might not be a good idea. The colors look wonderful & rich however, while contrast remains stark and always well balanced. I know some people dislike this method, but for what it is, this transfer looks terrific.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included Dolby Digital 5.1 more than handles the material, but don’t expect too much in terms of surround presence or dynamic audio. This movie is dominated by dialogue and low level effects, so the front channels bolster much of the audio and with good reason, as surround use would often be out of place here. The basics come through as needed and when some surround presence is called for, this mix more than delivers. So don’t expect too many bells & whistles, but this is still a solid, effective mix. This disc also includes a 2.0 surround option, in case that better suits your home theater needs.
Supplements: What are the extras?
You can listen to comments from Wayne Wang and consultant Patrick Lindenmeyer, but only on certain scenes, as opposed to a feature length session. I know some is better none, but I would have enjoyed a full commentary track, to be sure. But their comments fill up about two-thirds of the film, so I suppose all is well in the end. This disc also includes a featurette on the film’s web site creation, alternate ending sequences, some DVD ROM content, and two of the film’s theatrical trailers to round out the package.