Live Nude Girls (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It would be impossible to write a review of this film without discussing the title. How many viewers will see Julianna Lavin's feature debut because it's called Live Nude Girls? And how many will avoid it for the same reason? There's little doubt that the title was chosen for its provocative value, because, although the movie deals with live girls, they're mostly clothed. While there are bared breasts and discreetly-photographed limbs and torsos, most of the nakedness in this picture is of the emotional, not the physical, variety.

In essence, Live Nude Girls features five women in their early-thirties hanging out and talking. It's ninety minutes of simple, pleasant conversation. Nothing earthshattering occurs, and no one attempts to answer, or even raise, any meaningful, philosophical questions. One-by-one, these characters open up to one another about relationships, love, and sex, while those of us in the audience are transformed into flies on the wall.

In movies, slumber parties have been used as settings for everything from teen sex comedies to soft porn. Here, writer/director Julianna Lavin resorts to this overused plot device one more time. As a way to get the five women together for a night, it works as well as any other contrivance, and provides a reasonable means by which the conversation can flow as freely as the wine. The occasion for the slumber party is the approaching wedding of one of the women, Jamie (Kim Cattrall), a B-movie star who is making her third attempt at marriage. Four of her friends -- Georgiana (Lora Zane), Rachel (Laila Robins), Jill (Dana Delaney), and Marcy (Cynthia Stevenson) -- have decided to hold a girls-only get-together on the night of the groom-to-be's bachelor party. Hanging around on the periphery of this group is Chris (Olivia D'Abo), Georgiana's lesbian lover.

The reason Live Nude Girls works is that all six major actresses give unaffected performances. Each of them (even Kim Cattrall, who isn't known for her acting ability) slides effortlessly into her role, and their interpersonal interaction is relaxed. Perhaps because it was written and directed by a woman, Live Nude Girls has a genuine "feel" -- I can believe these are the kinds of things women talk about when men aren't around. Everything from the petty bickering of two sisters (Jill and Rachel) to the frank, raunchy discussions about sex has a ring of truth.

Unfortunately, the film's pleasant rhythm and tone are frequently interrupted by ineffective and often irritating fantasy sequences and flashbacks. One of the cardinal rules of film making has always been "show, don't tell", but this is a rare motion picture where the director should have made an exception. There's such charm and honesty in the scenes where the women just sit and talk that many of the interruptions become intrusive.

Live Nude Girls mixes humor with the drama. On one occasion, Jamie is obsessing about the reprehensible acts her fiance might be engaged in at his bachelor party. The scene then cuts to four guys sitting around a table at a bar, drinking beer and guessing how much money a nearby jukebox brings in on a weekly basis. It's not exactly the sex-crazed nightmare of Jamie's vision. Although it isn't hilarious, this sequence is cleverly-constructed, and there are several more like it throughout the film. There are also in-jokes for those who recall Delaney in Exit to Eden and Cattrall in Police Academy. And it's kind of fun (not to mention a little different) to see men presented as sex objects.

Personally, I have always appreciated well-made, talky motion pictures. That's why I'm fond of efforts like What Happened Was..., My Dinner with Andre, Before Sunrise, and the films of Eric Rohmer. Not that Live Nude Girls is in quite the same category as any of these movies -- it relies a little too much on melodramatic cliches (the bride-to-be who doesn't know if she can go through with the wedding, the lovers who may or may not be breaking up, etc.). But, beneath the familiar plot contrivances, there's a core of honesty that delivers a satisfying motion picture experience.

Live Nude Girls (United States, 1995)

Director: Julianna Lavin
Cast: Dana Delaney, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Stevenson, Lora Zane, Laila Robins, Olivia D'Abo
Screenplay: Julianna Lavin
Cinematography: Chris Taylor
Music: Anton Sanko
U.S. Distributor: I.R.S. Releasing
Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Situations, Profanity, Nudity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1