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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Julie Davis '90 talks about 'Amy's Orgasm'

In 1998, an independent film called "I Love You, Don't Touch Me" was released in major theaters. The film did relatively well for a small independent film -- critics and audiences both liked it.

While to the public eye, it was just another picture in a long tradition of romantic comedies that came and went, rarely remembered beyond their relatively short day in the sun, to Julie Davis, who wrote, directed and starred in the film, it changed everything. After five years working at temp agencies and behind the scenes in the film industry, she had suddenly made it big. Davis's success had a rather unexpected result, however.

"The success of [the film] magnified the important things of my life that were missing," she said.

It is from this somewhat sobering revelation that Davis began writing for her next film, "Amy's Orgasm."

The story revolves around the life of Amy Mandell (Davis), the 20-something, suddenly-successful author of a popular new self-help book called "Why Love Doesn't Work." A professor in the film calls Amy's advice the "greatest piece of female psychology I've ever read."

The book discusses the way women have become entirely dependent on men for their self-esteem, making statements like "A man builds his self-esteem by having a woman say 'yes,' a woman builds hers by saying 'no.'"

Amy agrees to appear on a Howard Stern-like radio talk show that usually interviews centerfold models and recent breast-implant recipients. Amy and the show's host, Matthew Starr, have a flirty yet tense back-and-forth about the content of her book. At the end of the show, Matt asks Amy for her phone number.

From then on, Amy is in a bind. She suddenly finds that she is failing to follow her own advice, and must deal with not only the turmoil of a relationship, but also the contradiction between that relationship and what she tries to teach.

"Amy's Orgasm" has received a less-than-kind reception from quite a few critics. Jean Oppenheimer from the New Times said that "The film should come with a warning label: Vanity project ahead!" The New York Times' Dave Kehr called Amy Mandell "one of the most maddeningly self-possessed heroines in film history."

"I wasn't surprised," Davis said about the criticism directed about at her film. "When a woman does everything in a role where it's supposed to be someone who's attractive and sexy, a woman can't do that. Women have to be either the thinker or they have to be the actress."

Davis not only wrote, directed and starred in the film, but she also produced it and did all of the editing herself. "A lot of the criticisms wouldn't have been directed if it was a different actress."

She has a point. Critics have never claimed that actresses were egotistical for appearing in roles that required them to be strikingly attractive. And yet Davis is called just that for appearing in a part that actually seems very real and tangible, unlike most Hollywood roles.

In the film, people are constantly making quips to the effect that Amy is "a lot skinnier in person." And in the beginning of the film, in the midst of her success, Amy says, "I still have cellulite on my ass, and it's starting to creep down the back of my thighs."

This is far from an overdose of ego. In fact, it's the movie's realism that makes it so effective. Even when the cinematography isn't flawless and the lighting is a bit off, the script never fails to be strikingly real. The characters in the film seem to be genuine people dealing with the issues that people who aren't in movies confront.

The actors often play their parts effortlessly -- a success undoubtedly attributable in part to the script's realist approach. Rather than forcing themselves to invent emotions for artificial events, the actors are simply playing out situations they have likely been in themselves.

Davis' writing style is the source of the film's realism. She said her films are "always based on people I know, or alter-egos of mine [Amy's Orgasm] is pretty personal." She called the film's characters "a combination of people I know."

There is no love lost between Davis and art-house cinema. "What is a serious art film? Most 'serious art films' are boring, pretentious pieces of shit," she said. "They're not even genuine."

That view once again reflects Davis' priorities. And it is because being genuine is such a high priority for her that "Amy's Orgasm" is so easy to watch. The characters' interactions remind the viewer not of a work of fiction, but of the relationships that people actually deal with on a day-to-day basis. That's what makes the movie a gem.

In the film's rather grandiose finale, Amy is giving a speech in front of the Capitol in Washington. At the climax of the speech, Amy nearly takes back the things she had written in her book: "I needed to survive as a healthy person instead of a martyr who thinks self-starvation is some chic political idea, because I have nothing else to stand for love does work."

Asked whether she viewed the film as her own attempt to explain "why love works," Davis hesitated for a moment and responded, "That's good. I like that. It's from my heart."

"Amy's Orgasm" will show at 8:00 p.m. tomorrow in Spaulding Auditorium -- Ms. Davis will attend the screening in person.