The next post will be on or before Tuesday, 2nd October
A GIGOLO AND NICHOLAS CAGE
The 2002 film Sonny marks the directorial debut of Nicholas Cage (born 1964) who is of course a star actor brilliant in e.g. the 1987 Coen Bros Raising Arizona, and the harrowing alcoholism saga Leaving Las Vegas (1995) as well as acting in a fair amount of third-rate money-spinners and worse. Sonny with James Franco (born 1978) surprisingly received mostly negative reviews, but I have watched it twice and enjoyed it a great deal, and can strongly recommend it, not least because of the virtuoso acting of Franco and the UK actress Brenda Blethyn (born 1946) who plays his brothel owner mother in the film. As obsessive card sharp and Blethyn’s feckless lover, it also stars the late great Harry Dean Stanton (1926-2017) towering in Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas (1984) and in the contrasting but hugely enjoyable and uncategorizable 1984 SF fantasy Repo Man where he starred alongside Emilio Estevez(born 1962).
One day in 1981 Sonny returns from the US army, and clad in uniform walks towards his maternal home which unusually is a brothel in seedy, downtown New Orleans. En route he sees endless amounts of sex shamelessly for sale and in the raw, not just joints with strippers but live sex acts and in a brief cameo he notes 3 little boys gazing through a window at something extremely engrossing. His mother Jewel lives in an elegant four floors mansion and screams with delight when he returns. We soon learn that she trained him as a fatherless gigolo when he was a boy and now swilling bourbon is witlessly confident he will return to his old trade. Blethyn who is English, is wonderfully convincing as a conniving, lachrymose and self- pitying Louisiana madam, and when you consider she is best known for that God-awful UK TV detective series Vera, you can only wonder at her infinite versatility. Jewel also has a filthy temper and bawls at Sonny when he says he is going down to Texas to work in a bookstore, and also rants viciously at Carol, one of her prostitutes, played very ably by the beautiful Mena Suvari (born 1979) who is of Greek and Estonian extraction. Just as James Franco is familiar from certain Spider Man movies and the cult TV show Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000) so Suvari is immediately recognisable from the hit 1999 film American Beauty. Once introduced, these two young ones are immediately attracted, and that night Carol walks boldly into his bedroom and asks Sonny to make love, which they do with an unusual tenderness.
Despite his mother’s raging sulks Sonny drives down to Texas City for the bookshop post, but to no avail as the job his friend had arranged had fallen through. By way of compensation the friend arranges a date with two attractive young women and before long Sonny is in bed with one of them, who when she praises his sexual prowess makes the mistake of confessing he was once a male hooker and escort. She makes a frightened excuse and goes to the bathroom, but he follows her and sees she is drinking a bottle of codeine. Challenged, she says it is only cough medicine, but Sonny goes berserk and smashes up every bottle of codeine he can find stashed away in the numerous bathroom cupboards. The woman shrieks at him to get out of the house and Sonny’s friend intervenes but he continues his epic destruction and roars at the 3 of them:
“I am better than all of you! I am a better person than you are!”
As confirmation of which, he immediately returns to New Orleans and easy money as an experienced hooker. The next day he bumps into 2 middle-aged women friends of his mother, when he is out buying suitably expensive clothes for the escort role. Both friends, one of them plump and motherly, are openly attracted to the handsome 24- year-old, and drag him off for a drink, and sure enough the next day we see him vigorously shafting the obese one in her bedroom and her gurgling and shrieking with delight. Having accepted his payment, he asks for her to recommend him to friends and within days he has a colourful task where he has to turn up at a woman’s secluded mansion pretending to be a policeman investigating a possible break in into her bedroom. The cop’s uniform has been acquired by Henry/Harry Dean Stanton, who has plentiful contacts in the underworld, and Sonny goes through his charade very patiently as the woman pretends theatrical surprise, says her husband is travelling away on work, asks where the policeman’s obligatory colleague is etc. Once in the bedroom, the policeman berates her and brutally handcuffs her to her bed, then strips and takes her and she like her fat friend shrieks her delirious joy. There is a difference though, inasmuch as she gives him less money than promised, whereupon no nonsense Sonny starts smashing her TV and ripping her curtains until she relents and pays him the full amount. As an improvisation on these 2 erotic set pieces, Sonny and Carol are invited to a glamorous party thrown by the plump lady, a socialite hostess, with the understanding that at the end of it, Sonny will sleep with her while Carol cavorts with her paunchy old husband. Sonny is ordered to take the hostess roughly and to rip her costly party dress from her neck, as Carol elsewhere straddles the gormless husband who babbles his yes, yes, superb, superb! before he reaches orgasm. The total cost for this foursome is $500 which corresponds exactly to the price of the gorgeous white suit that Sonny had had to acquire to become a gigolo with dignity.
This irony is highlighted alongside an impressively understated reality apropos being a prostitute or a male hooker. You cannot marry and have children and lead a normal life if you wish to be in the trade doing tricks, and when Carol shows signs of wishing otherwise, Jewel threatens to have her ‘cut’ so that no one would want her, married or not. Throughout the film Carol begs Sonny to leave the brothel and Jewel, and to escape to a new life, but Sonny is no hero and he vacillates at every point. There is a moving set piece where the two of them go off for a ride in his car and she suggests they have a little walk together, but he looks at the sky and worries that his suit (= his gigolo status) will be ruined. Nevertheless, she harries him and as predicted it pours down, and they seek refuge in a barn. There they come across a sheepdog that has just had a litter of pups, and Carol is moved to tears if only because it makes her think of motherhood and the fact it is denied to her as a whore. But Sonny doesn’t get it and says it is only a dog, so that Carol runs from the barn in the pouring rain with Sonny in pursuit, only for the pair of them to slide in a puddle and for the suit to be ruined. There is an ambiguous and tantalisingly apparent reconciliation, but no promise from Sonny that he will dare to leave his maternal prison.
Meanwhile Henry, Jewel’s feckless partner, keeps on having all day rummy card games with his best friend who runs a bar, and Henry keeps on losing. One night though he wins all of $60 and starts to crow overbearingly about his success, and that it signals a magical rise in his fortunes. Instead he leaves the bar, gets into his car, pulls out without looking, and is immediately ploughed into by a huge speeding lorry, so that the car explodes and he is incinerated. After the funeral Jewel is suddenly moved to make a confession, which is that Henry was Sonny’s father but that the pair of them decided to conceal the fact as they wanted Sonny to be a success at whatever he did and not end up like Henry.
You will have noted throughout the film that Sonny keeps going berserk, but ultimately a cowardly act of self-destruction dictates the pattern of the rest of his life. Traumatised by Jewel’s admission, first of all he goes into a bar and orders a certain bourbon drink which he covers with a napkin, shakes in a frenzy, and downs in a single gulp He does this numerous times, until he is wildly drunk and the make-up artist for this film was a genius at this point, for as he wanders through New Orleans his eyes have shrunk to the size of two lentils. Mesmerisingly, he starts to giggle inanely at sundry street musicians who are playing heavy metal guitar that sounds like the fanfare as one approaches Hell. He is then inspired to knock on the door of an acquaintance called Acid Yellow, played with easy finesse by the director Nick Cage, so called as he wears a hideous yellow suit and bank clerk’s specs to that he looks like the pimp to outpimp all others. Sonny knows that Yellow’s clients are legendarily upmarket, and says that he wants one, a guy who is looking for rough trade, as he needs the money and because Yellow owes him a favour as an old friend. At length Yellow obliges, and puts him in a bedroom where a rich if puny executive nervously enters, kneels on the floor and demands to be punished.
“Why do you want to be punished?” Sonny asks him with infinite menace.
“Because I’ve been bad!”
“Oh? Do you want to know why you are bad?”
“Because you have got a father. And I haven’t!”
Sonny then goes insane and proceeds to beat the executive senseless, until panicking Yellow and his minder intervene, the pimp in a demented fury at losing his most lucrative client. Sonny ultimately beats off the minder and escapes onto the street, only to be roared at by Yellow as a ‘fucking cunt’. When he wakes up the next morning, he has Carol begging him to escape and to marry her, and saying if he won’t she will accept the offer of one of her johns, an ugly overweight and brutal middle-aged man who had several times asked her to be his wife. True to form, Sonny vacillates until Carol loses patience and joins her future husband in his car. She is sobbing with grief at which the unheeding slob tells her to shut the fuck up, as she is messing her mascara. Carol briefly hallucinates Sonny joining her at the last minute and the pair of them flinging themselves into each other’s arms and we the spectators are as hopeful and excited as she is. But it is only a fantasy and instead Sonny stands there rooted to his past, to his invincible mother and the father who he did not know was his.