Entertainment

'Pleasure' Is an Extremely Explicit NSFW Look at the Porn Industry

The new film, out this weekend, is unrated for good reason.

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Even before anything appears on screen, it’s very clear that Pleasure, directed by Ninja Thyberg, is not safe for work. Forget NSFW, even; this unrated film is barely safe for watching in the privacy of your own home depending on who could be looking in. But far from coasting only on shock value, Pleasure is an alternately titillating and horrifying look at the porn industry through the eyes of an eager young participant.

Nothing is that unfamiliar in the plot of Pleasure, but Thyberg, who hails from Sweden, approaches her subject with such a clinical gaze that it’s hard to shake the feeling that she’s doing something revolutionary. Pleasure is neither judgmental nor celebratory in the way it treats porn, and yet its dispassionate, brightly lit eye is deliberately unnerving. You’ll leave the film wanting to wash off what you just saw.

At the center of Pleasure is Sofia Kappel as Bella Cherry, a character who, like Thyberg, is a Swedish expat. Bella has come to Los Angeles with the sole purpose of being a porn star. She’s uninterested in exploring her new city beyond the model house where her agent has put her up and the other girls trying to break into the business and the sets where she performs.

Bella approaches everything in her life strategically, which Kappel conveys with analytical eyes. She’s wary of getting too close to her female colleagues, aware that everything around her is a competition. While her roommate Joy (the giddy Revika Reustle), a transplant from Florida, eagerly tells producers she’s down for anything sexually, Bella at first thinks it’s beneficial to start off with the basics before graduating to the more hardcore material. She wants to leave something to the imagination, a pretense she eventually abandons.

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Though Pleasure is extraordinarily explicit-there are penises and vaginas and cum shots aplenty-Thyberg is more interested in the mechanisms of porn than the feelings it elicits. After the initial heavy breathing that kicks off the film, Thyberg cuts to Bella filling out paperwork. Thyberg seems aware that what’s most unsettling about porn is not the actual sex, but the moments when the sex stops and everyone breaks character. She contrasts a supportive S&M set, featuring safe words and a female director, with what happens on a brutal shoot where Bella is afforded none of that care by the men around her. Thyberg hones in on the way the male performers can, at a moments’ notice, turn into abusive caricatures for the camera, even as they pat Bella’s shoulders and console her when the cameras aren’t rolling.

There’s something at times clichéd about Bella’s descent. Frustrated by her lack of opportunities yet driven by her desire to succeed, she keeps pushing her boundaries farther and farther, along the way losing both any of the titular pleasure she gets out of sexual acts and her soul. The former is a less compelling descent than the latter. We expect to see young upstarts dragged into scenarios that are beyond their depths, losing their morals along the way, but what’s more disconcerting is how even the most outrageous of sex acts are neutralized as Bella disassociates.

Thyberg spent years researching LA’s porn industry, and cast its denizens to surround Kappel. Some of them radiate an uncanny quality, like Mark Spiegler, who plays himself as a hot-shot agent for porn stars, but it’s Reustle, better known as her moniker Zelda Morrison, who matches Kappel’s easy naturalism. Joy is Bella’s foil, a girl who at first seems willing to be chewed up and spit out by porn, but ends up having a stronger moral code than the calculating Bella.

Despite the dirtiness of the content, Thyberg infuses Pleasure with an antiseptic quality that counters all of the bodily fluids. A coldness consumes the movie. Like Bella, you become numb watching it, and that’s what makes it all the more haunting.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.

Entertainment

'Top Gun: Maverick' Is the Perfect Adrenaline Rush

Tom Cruise's sequel brings the charms of the original classic into the modern era.

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

What does it take to make a great action drama? Fighter jets. Kenny Loggins music. Tom Cruise. In 1986, Top Gun, perhaps the ultimate “guys being dudes” action movie set within a training school for the Navy’s best fighter pilots, patented this formula, and added in a bunch of sweaty guys playing beach volleyball and an iconic love scene to seal the deal. Top Gun‘s massive popularity made the announcement of a sequel seem the most natural thing in the world, if not the most exciting: an elder Tom Cruise handing the reins off to a new generation of elite actors. If that’s what you’re expecting, you’re in for a surprise. Top Gun is a classic. Top Gun: Maverick does everything Top Gun did and more.

It’s been thirty-six years since Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) completed his TOPGUN program, but he’s far from the decorated officer he was destined to become by the end of the first movie. He’s dodged every promotion he could dodge, working as a test pilot flying hypersonic stealth jets for the military, but the specter of unmanned drones looms ever closer, spelling the end for an entire era of warfare. Not so fast, though-Maverick is called back to a certain fighter training school as an instructor, tasked with putting together a team of the best of the best to complete a bombing run involving some absurdly complex flying maneuvers at high speed much too close to the ground in enemy territory. If you will, an impossible mission.

The new crop of airmen, now flying F/A-18 Hornets instead of F-14 Tomcats, are kids in Maverick’s eyes, and he shows up to teach them what’s what, inventing training exercises to test their mettle and teach them how to fly as a team. It’s not going to be easy, with the egos of pilots like “Hangman” (Glen Powell), “Fanboy” (Danny Ramirez), “Coyote” (Greg Tarzan Davis) and “Phoenix” (Monica Barbaro) repeatedly clashing as they struggle to work together. And there are two more problems: He only has a few weeks to train these kiddos up to fly a mission from which they might not all return, and one of his students, sullen Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), is the son of Maverick’s old flying partner Goose, who tragically died in the first movie. Not to mention reconnecting with an old flame, single mother Penny (Jennifer Connelly), who manages the local bar and is not about to fall yet again for a guy who’s left her more than once. You see where this is going.

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

The movie begins with a collection of the greatest hits of its predecessor, including but not limited to a montage of jets landing on an aircraft carrier lit by the golden light of the sun, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” and Maverick defying orders to do something with an aircraft that nobody’s ever done before. This is, after all, a movie that will have more than a few similarities to the one that came before. After that, though, the engines kick into gear (I apologize if this car metaphor doesn’t also work for planes), and Top Gun: Maverick starts to try out a few new tricks.

The interpersonal relationships between the characters are fun and fully realized (Maverick’s perpetual battle of egos with his commanding officer, a Vice Admiral known as “Cyclone” (Jon Hamm) is a highlight) and there’s just enough downtime between white-knuckle action to really get to know everyone. The sweaty beach game returns, but the macho posturing is toned down, given that we live in a new millennium and one of the main pilots is a woman. Val Kilmer reprises his “Iceman” for a touching scene. All of this is complemented by unbelievable flying sequences that will genuinely leave you breathless, each lightning-fast dogfight game and training simulation grander and faster than the last. This is the type of film to see as big and loud as possible.

But, as the original was, Top Gun: Maverick is also simply a straight-up great time at the movies. It makes the act of being a good movie look like the easiest thing in the world, with director Joseph Kosinski showing off everything he’s got. (Yes, you should give Tron: Legacy another shot.) Because “the enemy” is never named, as in the first movie, it is comfortably apolitical (if you disregard the fact that the jets Maverick eventually goes up against are Russian, and what a boon the original Top Gun was for U.S. military recruitment programs), and even though the whole movie is working towards a life-or-death wartime mission, it never forgets that its purpose is to thrill and excite. Great action movies aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Like a good wingman, Top Gun: Maverick swoops in to save the day.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.

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