Buy It Now
Director: Antonio Campos
Cast: Chelsea Logan, Rosemarie DeWitt, Christopher McCann
helsea Magan is your average gossip-spreading, party-going, boy-chasing 16 year-old. With the admitted convenience of being a flush Manhattanite, she would comfortably tell you that she enjoys a “night out on the town“ with her girlfriends; expensive clothes and designer accessories; “hot guys“ and Britney Spears. What she probably wouldn’t tell you is that she uses eBay. What she certainly wouldn’t tell you is what exactly she uses it to do.
Chelsea’s first foray into the world of online trading is an altogether personal affair. The bidders are all wealthy males. The item in question is her virginity.
Alfonso Campos’ prize-sweeping debut feature, an hour-long, two-part documentary-portrait-that-repeats-itself-as-a-scripted-drama, deliberately toys with the conventions other “reality on film“ exercises have fashioned, but doesn’t bow down to any rigid stipulations of the genre. Think: The Blair Witch Project without the gimmicky pretentiousness, or Capturing The Friedmans with an aggressive dose of brutal honesty. Its plain-spoken simplicity hides a disturbing reality in the stereotypes it addresses. But the acclaim didn’t come easy: Campos had to stomach a long string of festival rejections before finally being picked up by Cannes, where his film on to win the Cinefondation award–and, if there is any justice in the cruel world of King Kong-like movie fetishization, a wider distribution will eventually ensue. It would be a shame otherwise.
Clocking in at a modest 62 minutes, Buy It Now can all too easily appear as a media student’s “serious“ film project, albeit an accomplished one. It would be unfair, though, to dismiss this gem of a movie as something less than what it represents. In little over an hour, Buy It Now packs more emotional punches than the whole of Claire Danes’ movie career. Contrary to Campos’ initial persistence, the film is shown as a two-part piece, each half as distinct to the other as it is reciprocal. Casting aside all expectations and heard-before thematic prejudices, this would-be psychological mindfuck opens in authentic docu-style with Chelsea documenting–frequently in video-confessional mode from inside her room–her emotional hell in the run up to her finally becoming “just like everybody else“. But more than Chelsea herself, it is what goes on around her that makes the reality of this small fiction play so sickly deep-cutting.
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“Sex is no big deal“ is as thoughtful as the support offered by Chelsea’s girlfriends gets, though even that sentiment is, perhaps, a fair consensus in the increasingly sex-crazed, valueless environment in which these girls are growing up. The razors she regularly resorts to, the scars on her legs, the dysfunctional family and the woefully distant, self-concerned mother oblivious to her own daughter’s emotional muddles are all cards Campos plays gradually, upping the unease quotient from the film’s opening shots. But even the smallest dose of patronizing scrutiny, in the way Campos plays up the many stereotypes his characters personify, is never a condemnation. It is as real and caustic as reality gets. Campos doesn’t build his case on female objectification either, despite the assumptions some might make regarding the premise of an innocent young girl selling her virginity on an Internet site. The confrontationalism in Buy It Now is always reserved for someone else–the mother, the friend, the distant father.
If the first half of Buy It Now lewdly feeds our more prurient, voyeuristic inclinations, the second half obliterates them. The shaky self-filmed home-videoness is replaced by a drama-like fictionalization of essentially the same events. (Think of the first part as Chelsea’s perspective; this, on the other hand, is Campos talking.) A big part of Chelsea’s journey to sexual liberation occurs in a hotel room where she finally meets the “highest bidder,” and much of this encounter is revealed in the explosive second half. Yes, it is intrusive, harrowing and sick, but ultimately so very satisfying.
By the end of the film, you may know more about Chelsea than you ever expected to, and yet there is still so much you feel like you don’t know. Is the secularization of society to blame? Or peer-pressure? Disfunctionality at home? Campos is probably as unclear about these answers as we are–and we wouldn’t have it any other way.