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When Worlds Collide

Venus-as-a-boy-movie-review-ty-hodges-olivia-culpo
Adrian M. Pruett

MOVIE REVIEW
Venus as a Boy (2021)

Ty Hodges wrote, directed and starred in this as a present to himself; and right up until the final shot that choice makes beautiful sense. The point of the movie is how black artists tend to be pigeonholed due to their race, and are not allowed to explore themes or interests beyond “the black experience.” Well, of course they are allowed. There’s just no money in it.

Mr. Hodges is Hunter, a struggling painter in Los Angeles, only getting gallery shows by sleeping with Cleo the owner (Bai Ling, of all people). But when he and Cleo break up he loses his place in her next show, and in a fit of pique gives away his main painting to a woman he passes on the street. The woman turns out to be Ruby (Olivia Culpo), a social media influencer well known to everyone except Hunter, who is in L.A. to take care of the admin around her father’s death. They bump into each other again and one thing leads to another. But it’s clear that while Ruby is very aware of how her beauty and charm have opened doors, she has very little appreciation of her white privilege, most painfully in the dreadful scene where two police interfere in a squabble between them, and Ruby escalates without the slightest consideration for the fact that in so doing she is putting Hunter in harm’s way. It means she can’t ever really appreciate his work; and that means the cracks between them don’t take too long to widen.

And while the emotional connection between Hunter and Ruby is genuine, professionally they are in very different worlds. Part of this is Mr. Hodges’s fault; Ms. Culpo’s persona is allowed to do the heavy lifting for Ruby’s character, so the script doesn’t bother taking her professional achievements seriously. Well, she makes one cranky phone call about being sent chiffon instead of silk, and is constantly taking selfies. Beyond that her daily routine and responsibilities are pretty much ignored, which is unkind as well as unfair. In contrast, we see Hunter painting, mediating, meeting with fellow artists (one of whom is Estelle!) and discussing career choices with his roommate/best friend/fellow struggling artist Henny (Trace Lysette). This loading of the dice wasn’t necessary since the symbiotic relationship between artists and influencers in today’s world is overdue an intelligent examination – one side has all the attention and the other has all the ideas, and they need each other. But even the unlevel playing field is understandable right up to the movie’s final shot, when Mr. Hodges, with one juvenile gesture, makes it clear he wishes to have his cake and eat it. It’s a damn shame – Adrian M. Pruett shot a beautiful movie; and the gentle way in which Ruby and Hunter explore each other’s worlds is a charming depiction of a new relationship despite its awkward pacing. But the failure to see Ruby as a full person means the movie sacrifices its own point. A smarter movie would have played fair.

PS: Despite the title, there’s not a single reference to Björk.

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