Of course, since I'm telling you how much I thought I'd hate the movie, I ended up loving it. It was one of the coolest, most interesting character dramas I've ever seen, and I loved everything about it. The way the story unfolds is just genius, and I'm so glad that I own it!
I don't know how to summarize the plot, though. So much of what is neat about it is spoiler-y, and I don't want to ruin anything for you. It's a film where everything is linked, often in ways that are not obvious until later, and the characters might not even understand. It's complex! The events all center around Exotica, a strip club that seems to cater to the "special needs" of their clients, which is often extreme desperation. It's not a place to go and party - it's a sad place. The club is owned by Zoe, who is pregnant and inherited the club from her mother. Christina, one of the dancers there, dresses as a schoolgirl and dances to Leonard Cohen. One man in particular always come in to see her - Francis, a man whose life is tied to hers in a myriad of ways that I'm not going to tell you. They talk for hours, which makes the DJ, Eric, Christina's ex-boyfriend, jealous. There is more, including a plot line involving a guy smuggling macaw eggs into the country.
I feel like I've made this sound like the worst movie, but there's no way to summarize the plot without ruining all the amazing things we discover later in the film. The story isn't told in a linear way - things unfold so slowly and we don't get very much information about the characters until the end. And the scenes in the end are so much more thought-provoking and fascinating because of everything we've seen before. I sound so cryptic! I just feel like if you haven't seen the movie, you have to, and I don't want to spoil how wonderful and complex the film really is!
It's not a complex film to watch, like other non-linear films can sometimes be. And it's not something like Memento or The Machinist which hit you with a twist of some kind right at the end. In Exotica, Ebert says, it's easy to understand the relationships between the characters and their links. It's harder to understand what that means. Francis has a babysitter who is young who he hires to babysit for him when he's at the club. But she doesn't actually babysit. Does this mean something? Does it mean something else when you realize the dancer he's going to see looks young and dresses like a schoolgirl? I'm not..sure. I keep thinking about what I know about the characters and I can't decide what the implications about their links to each other really mean. I mean, I have plenty of ideas, but right now, an hour after watching the film, I have no answers.
I just love that it was so interesting and complex - not just "Hey, all these characters in this club are connected herp derp". I loved the slow pacing, the weird murky colors and lighting. It just created this really interesting world and atmosphere. I liked that there wasn't really a world outside of the club. Maybe Christina had things going on in her life, but that didn't matter - the only concern here was what happens in Exotica.
I tried to take a break from writing this post to see if I could come up with a better way to talk about it without spoiling the whole thing, but I really didn't! Maybe I was too distracted making dinner, but I really couldn't think of anything. I kept wondering about the different implications of the links between the characters, but I couldn't really decide how I felt about them yet. I guess I can say that I really appreciate the fact that while some of my questions about the characters could be really damning or make them into bad people, the film never makes the characters into anything bad or negative. They are what they are - maybe they're doing something wrong, but the film treats them all equally and non-judgmentally for it.
I really, really recommend this movie. For anyone who is touchy about naked people, there are quite a bit of them in this, but it's not a sleazy, pornographic movie. The strip club is just the location that everything takes place, you know? It's a great movie, and even though I had trouble tracking it down, it was worth it. If you find a copy to rent, you really should. It's one of the best movies I've seen for this project in a while, just because I loved the characters and the unique, slow way of telling their story.
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Exotica
Buy it on Amazon