SCREENING AT THE 2005 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: It seems every day there’s a kicker on some newscast about the latest gimmick being posted up for online auction. One day it’s the offer of a kidney, the next it’s a kumquat in the shape of Jesus at the last supper. Remember the couple who offered a pay-per-view to watch them have sex for the first time? Chelsea Magan probably did and is now looking for a partner with a price. Director Antonio Campos proposes to tell her story in two parts with a second-half narrative that complements the documentary portion. Harrowing and a sign of our morality-run-amok times, the result is a staggering showpiece and may sincerely frustrate enquiring minds who want the whole truth.We’re told that in 2004, Chelsea ran into Campos, an aspiring filmmaker and asked if he could make anything out of her home movies. Those tapes document the period when Chelsea got the idea from her friend to sell her virginity on e-Bay. “Young, cute NYC girl (never been used)” reads her ad sans picture (although she might have gotten away with a photo of Natasha Lyonne.) It may sound like a cute little teenage game if she wasn’t absolutely serious and maybe not a big deal if she wasn’t a 16-year old prone to cutting while listening to Thomas Newman’s score for the Road To Perdition. We follow Chelsea right up to the evening of truth although legal picadillos and good taste prevail in not turning into a moment for Cinemax.
After a devastating conclusion to her story, the film shifts gears to tell the same tale in a narrative fashion. Think Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda in conceptualizing a particular story for public consumption. Campos’ approach says as much about the unfactual dramatic licenses of the three-act structure as it does about how those embellishments do add up to the connection we have with the characters and the material. There’s no irony lost when Chelsea’s favorite movies includes Pretty Woman and Larry Clark’s Kids; one the story of a prostitute who sells herself and gets to go shopping and the other a seering and nasty portrait of the decline of our nation’s youth.
Many independent filmmakers can’t make a point with two hours and a cast full of A-listers. Antonio Campos has been able to do it with one girl in barely an hour and telling the same story twice. The link of materialism to the bankrupt cultures of neglected parenting and objectification of dolts like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton hangs like a rain cloud to which Chelsea has no shelter from. (Even e-Bay is less concerned with someone using their service to sell their virginity and more with it being filed under the right category.) Her mom says “if there’s something going on you should really talk to your therapist”; one who prescribes pills instead of listening. Chelsea’s insecurities have her thinking whether her “john” will like her first and if he’s dangerous last. The abandonment issues from her father manifests itself beyond the realm of creepy if you can make the connection the cast list leaves us with.
Like Smooth Talk or even The Silence of the Lambs, Chelsea’s ordeal becomes a form of mental rape that involves not just the attention her lucky winner shows her but the way society has helped brainwash her to what she’s doing is acceptable. Campos with the limits of the medium finds a way to get us inside her head by splitting our perceptions (and the screen) at her most vulnerable. When its reached its climax, her POV still shakes while the damaged lifeline of another goes black. Chelsea acquits herself so well "reliving" these events in the second half that if she decides to pursue acting, hopefully she will not be relegated to the Heather Donahue section of casting lists.I’ve thought about the film long and hard and have felt uneasy about giving in to its power. Like The Blair Witch Project, the film relies on its own reality and selling it to an audience who fear yet desperately want to believe its horror. Upon discovering they were duped, many audiences turned on the film, forgetting all about the strengths of the filmmaking that allowed us to bother questioning its authenticity in the first place. Buy It Now works on the same level and like the one buying his ticket in the movie says “If I’m going to enjoy this I don’t really want to know that much about you.” But no matter what the truth ultimately is, Buy It Now is a potent and unsettling film.