'Hot Girls Wanted': A Good Film About Porn That's No Turn-On

·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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A documentary about making it in the porn industry that works as an excellent warning to viewers who might be tempted to try it as a path to success, Hot Girls Wanted carries its ambitions lightly. This swift-moving film from directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, produced by Rashida Jones, doesn’t lecture or hector. It spends time with a few young women involved in the “amateur porn” subset of the genre, finding out why they’ve chosen this work, and how their initial expectations compare to their subsequent realities.

The subjects of Hot Girls Wanted are mostly in their late teens, yearning to escape from parental control and make more money than they would at low-paying jobs in a lousy economy. After an initial montage of sex-positive pop culture — Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian are among the dignitaries acknowledged — the filmmakers’ implication is that female role models can influence suggestible people into thinking sex work is a path to wealth and fame.

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Hot Girls Wanted focuses particularly on Tressa (her last name is withheld), a teen from Texas who journeys to Florida, where the porn industry flourishes with such self-starters as her new employer, a poker-faced hustler named Riley, who lures new employees on Craigslist. You’d think Tressa and other girls who share an apartment-cum-office with Riley would become suspicious of their new boss’ worldview when he flips through potential stars on his laptop and remarks approvingly of one, “She’s 18, she looks like she’s 12 — with double-Ds!” Ick.

But “ick” soon becomes something far ickier. At first elated to be enjoying a sorority-house atmosphere and making hundreds of dollars per shoot, Tressa soon finds herself in a loop of arduous labor and pain. The frequent sex leaves her with an infected vaginal cyst; a visit to the ER is required. The cameras follow her on return visits to home, where her mother is sad and her father is clueless (Tressa doesn’t tell him what she’s doing until long after her mother knows).

On-screen graphics dole out statistics about how the porn industry goes through thousands of such girls every year, noting that few of them last more than three months before giving it up. One woman says, “You’re just processed meat.” The filmmakers make sure we know just how many viewers see the work Tressa and others are doing. They also show us how depressed and degraded it ends up making most of the so-called “stars” feel. By mostly refraining from editorializing but simply by showing (discreetly — there’s not a titillating shot to be seen in the whole film) and allowing these young women to say what they’re thinking, Hot Girls Wanted makes its point, vividly and dismayingly.

Hot Girls Wanted streams on Netflix starting Friday, 5/29.