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February 13, 2017

On 'From Straight A's to XXX': A Commentary

Lifetime's Miriam Weeks/Belle Knox biopic From Straight A's to XXX, which debuted on the network Saturday, does exactly what you would expect with the story of the "Duke Porn Star" from, well, Lifetime: paints it in exasperatingly broad strokes that reduce every player to the most cartoonish versions imaginable of the real people upon whom they're based (save perhaps for Piers Morgan, whose actual CNN interview with Knox is spliced together with reenacted answers from the actress playing her, Haley Pullos). According to a Chicago Tribune review, producer Sheri Singer's team attempted multiple times to solicit Knox's input on the movie but could never reach her, and therefore relied heavily on the many interviews she did during her 15 minutes in the spotlight (obviosuly including the one with Morgan). What they didn't do, however—at least as far as we can tell—is talk to or spend any time around anybody who actually works in porn. And therein lies maybe the movie's most fundamental problem: It commits the very same crime for which Knox was shunned within the industry (one point it ironically gets right)—representing it to the masses without any real authority to do so. The alternative facts, shall we dub them, begin with Miriam/Belle's trip to New York for her infamous first shoot with FacialAbuse.com (changed to "Facial Assault" for the movie's purposes). While admittedly that site has less than a stellar reputation for its treatment of models, the depiction of its operation here comes off as though Belle has unknowingly been brought to Hannibal Lecter's cage and thrown in with him ... before which she's forcibly made to sign a form "saying you're 18" without any request for an ID or a test. Facial Abuse may not be the industry norm for respecting talent's boundaries, but it's a pretty safe bet they're not conducting business on this level of illegality. Next, Miriam hooks up with agent "Don Engles" of "Pinnatus Models," based on John Steven of Matrix Models, and portrayed by Brat Packer Judd Nelson, who plays him closer to a bearded Nick Nolte type than the real guy. Receiving only her name and the fact that she just shot for Facial Assault, "Don" launches into a long spiel to Belle about what her first scene should be like, the protocol of safe words, and the importance of professionalism. Seems like a lot of info to shell out to a random girl who hasn't even said why she's calling, but maybe that's just us. Once she's in L.A. for her first "real" shoot, Belle encounters another girl at Don's house posing for a professional photographer. "Oh, that is Missy," Don tells her. "She's doing sexy Twitter pics." Cue facepalm. Plenty more ridiculousness ensues from that point forward, including but not limited to Belle attenting a fictional adult convention called "Risqué" that seems to be based on Exxxotica but takes place in Las Vegas and is full of aggressively lecherous dudes who snarl stuff at her like, "I'd like to bend you over and teach you a lesson for being so bad." All of it builds to a finale that may or may not mark the movie's pinnacle of preposterousness, in which Miriam, back at Duke, tells the school paper reporter who conducted her first interview that, "I'm refocusing some of my energy on the bigger picture," and said picture includes plans to one day run for office. The truth is, Miriam Weeks/Belle Knox completely disappeared off the radar after her stint in porn, and whatever she "refocused her energy" on is a matter of pure speculation. Yes, the events depicted here for the most part really did happen. The problem is, the way in which they're depicted has the tenor of how someone might imagine them who's never stepped foot within 10 miles of a porn set or possibly even ever seen any porn. More damningly, if one reads the interview Weeks/Knox did with Rolling Stone, it would appear an awful lot like the screenwriter of From Straight A's to XXX (Anne-Marie Hess) used it as almost her sole point of reference. The above-mentioned Chicago Tribune write-up called From Straight A's "a scathing indictment of skyrocketing college tuition prices," and that no doubt is at least partially how the people behind it would like to think of it, but if you subtract the seemingly happy and definitely dreamed-up ending, it really registers much more as an indictment of its central character herself. Despite all her book smarts, Miriam Weeks acted largely on impulse, failed to do proper research and got chewed up as a result. But beyond any of that, the biggest question this movie is likely to evoke in the minds of many is why exactly anyone saw fit to make a movie about Miriam Weeks at all? The tale of a college girl turning to adult entertainment to pay her tuition is one as old as adult entertainment. Maybe there's something different about her tale because of its ostensible disparity with the prestige of attending Duke? Or because it says something about how instantly one's life can be turned upside-down in this age of internet hyperconnectivity? Or maybe there is nothing different about it, and porn just gets ratings. Pictured: Haley Pullos as Belle Knox.

 
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