THE CENTER OF THE WORLD
directed by Wayne Wang with Peter Sarsgaard and Molly Parker opens May 4 at Broadway Market
THOSE WHO FIND stripping sexy and Las Vegas classy are in for a real treat with the latest from Wayne Wang (Smoke). Conversely, if neither ranks as a turn-on, you'd be better off staying home and renting some porn instead. Sharing story credit here with avant-novelist Paul Auster and Kill Rock Stars performance artist Miranda July, Wang digitally films a three-day tryst between lonely young high-tech millionaire Richard (Peter Sarsgaard) and steely, leggy Florence (Molly Parker).
Awaiting—and avoiding—news of his company's IPO, Richard happens upon Florence. A few lap dances later (and following plenty of atmospheric choreography for the audience to enjoy), he offers her 10 grand for a weekend in Vegas. She's wary, but agrees—if there's no intercourse, no kissing on the mouth, and if she services him only from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. (office hours). Oh, and she gets her own room.
Although Julia Roberts and Richard Gere once created box-office orgasms along a similar theme, Wang sees to it that Parker (Wonderland, The Five Senses) ain't no Cinderella. Florence is barely vulnerable under all that makeup, and Center allows no time to find out what makes her tick. She's soon squeaking across the carpet in a skin-tight vinyl tube dress, doing her act, and leaving Richard with his tongue—and a few other appendages—hanging out. Despite Parker's obvious onscreen presence, she's a zombie here. Her body, all limbs and tautness, is unforgiving and impersonal.
After his terrifying turn as a gay-bashing redneck in Boys Don't Cry, Sarsgaard makes Richard soft, desperate, and pitifully naﶥ. He assumes that love's about to bloom here—notwithstanding the $10,000. Belaboring the obviousness of that professional relationship, Wang gives us unrelentingly slow sex scenes in all their uncomfortable, clumsy detail, until the flimsy plot falls away and all that's left is two naked people who, despite being physically intimate, couldn't be farther apart.