Ninja Thyberg’s debut feature film Pleasure is a journey into the Los Angeles porn industry through thelens of newcomer Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel). Strong, self-confident and determined, Bella embarks on a mission to become the best at any cost.
There are a few things that were rarely openly talked about in the days before social media—religion, politics, and porn. The first two are, as we’ve seen recently, incredibly divisive. They require a certain level of maturity in order to have an open and honest discourse that much of our society doesn’t just have. While the latter was not unlike the others, supposed to be kept relatively private. Nevertheless, it was like an open secret. Everyone said they didn’t watch it, but you knew the truth. I mean, it takes millions of customers to create a multibillion-dollar industry. Now, that it’s mainstream, some of its stars are full-fledged celebrities, and Onlyfans links have invaded over 1.5 million social media bios, it’s hard to hide now the secret is clearly out. In the words of Ice Cube, “You ain’t gotta lie to kick it.” Just make sure you wash your hands.
“I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to work.”
All of our jobs may be hard from time to time, but in some professions, hard is used in a totally different context. Written and directed by Ninja Thyberg in her feature debut, Pleasure is a bold and unabashed observation of perspective and power dynamics within porn. Told through the eyes of a young starlet from Sweden, this inevitably nude narrative is simultaneously a story of unrelenting determination as well as grass is greener syndrome. It’s an unflinching, honest, and sometimes dangerous journey that sheds a light on what really goes on in the world of porn. Expounding on the 2013 short film of the same name, Thyberg delivers a carefully crafted and authentic script that is hard to refute. With the vast majority of the cast being some of the most well-known names and faces in the adult industry, the homework was done and clearly co-signed. This is a film that allows you to formulate your own thoughts about what takes place behind the scenes. Instead of taking paths that would only focus on the positive or negative aspects, she offers up a nuanced approach that is both and neither. Pleasure isn’t attempting to glorify nor smear the porn industry, it merely delivers what is.
Quickly establishing its grounded unclad demeanor with a very private moment, the film grabs you by the face and says, look at me. It explores the many levels and avenues of the industry, and it’s where the film naturally features most of its nudity—and it’s not just reserved for women. Nevertheless, the nudity isn’t as graphic as you might think. It’s what is implied slightly out of frame and with the faces and eyes where your mind can wander. It’s also where the scenes get intense and may be hard to watch for some. This is definitely not something that you should casually watch if you’re not prepared. Nonetheless, it should be respected. Ultimately, the film wants us to remember that while these performers are satiating our urges and desires, they are still human beings. Not to mention, while most of the porniverse is successful because of the women in it, they tend have less control than they should. When our protagonist, Bella Cherry isn’t attempting to leapfrog the competition, she battles with an existential crisis. She knows exactly what she wants to achieve, however, when she reaches that goal, will she be fulfilled? It’s relatable no matter what your profession happens to be. From pre-shoot preparation, social media traction, management and set nightmares, rivalries, and jealousy, the story covers nearly all facets of the job. The most intriguing quality of the film is what having high aspirations will drive you to do and who it can turn you into. You can go from powerless to powerful rather quickly, but at what cost? How much of yourself are you willing to compromise? The film is also bursting with charm and genuineness. In a business where there are more people than high-paying opportunities and essentially every person for themselves, bonds are formed as some attempt to succeed together. The film looks amazing, it’s shot extremely well, and the direction is exceptional. Reminding me of the very real Hot Girls Wanted, Pleasure is as close to real as you can get. I enjoyed the film a great deal but think twice before you chose who you’re going to watch it with. Its rewatchability is high.
Pace & Pop
The film is paced perfectly. Not only does it provide us with a story that moves effortlessly, but also provides a great transformational balance. What popped for me was the care and thoughtfulness that went into telling a raw, unlubricated, and fascinating porncapade.
Characters & Chemistry
Starring: Sofia Kappel, Revika Reustle, Evelyn Claire, Chris Cock, Dana DeArmond, Kendra Spade, Jason Toler, Mark Spiegler, Lance Hart
It’s very rare to witness a newcomer completely dominate and make the film their own on their first outing, but that’s exactly what took place. Sofia Kappel delivers a brave, daring, and mesmerizing performance as Bella Cherry. Oozing with a magnetic charm and easygoing confidence, stardom is on the horizon for Kappel. And while adult film stars are notoriously known for their bad acting, they all did quite well.
Pleasure releases in theaters on May 13, 2022. Stay safe and enjoy.
Runtime: 1h 45m
Director: Ninja Thyberg
Writer: Ninja Thyberg
Producers: Eliza Jones, Markus Waltå, Erik Hemmendorff
Executive Producers: Pape Boye, Violaine Pichon
Pleasure is a bold and unabashed observation of perspective and power dynamics within porn.
Senior Critic. Observing the human race since 1988.