The Center of the World (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

 We split on this one. Scoop thought it was a decent little arthouse effort, but Tuna despised it. The difference of opinion is no surprise. Critics were all over the board.

Scoop's notes


This is a much better film than I expected it to be, and many things I heard about it were inaccurate.

Carla Gugino doesn't get naked, and Molly Parker doesn't stick a lollipop inside her genitalia. 

However, the lollipop scene does exist. A professional porn star named Alisha Klass, who plays a stripper in this film, does in fact stick a lolly between her labia, and then places the same lolly in a customer's mouth. 

The salient things about that scene are

(1) completely assured that the film would be a financial flop. Given on-screen penetration, the MPAA had no choice but to order up an NC-17.

(2) it had virtually nothing to do with the movie. Although Parker plays another stripper in that club, that particular act was more or less just to set the atmosphere, like the strippers who seem to be in the background constantly on The Sopranos. Miss Klass had no lines in the film.  

Without that scene, the film had a good chance at an "R" rating since, although it has considerable sex and nudity, it is a serious film about alienation, loneliness, and the difference between love and sex. Why the hell didn't they just cut it?  , Well, I suppose they figured that this wasn't exactly a summer blockbuster anyway. The image quality is poor, and it affects a cinema verité quality, and those factors are leading indicators of certain box office death. Since it was doomed to a small arthouse run in either case, I guess they didn't lose that much business by retaining that scene.

Here's what the film is about:

A 20-something dot-com millionaire hooks up with a stripper he met in a coffee shop. He pays her $10,000 to join him for a weekend in Vegas, agreeing to her list of conditions (no penetration, no kissing on the lips, sex only from 10 PM to 2 AM).  She asks him before they leave, "You know this is just a show, right?" He nods, but he doesn't really get it. There is a complex power struggle that takes place between them. The title of the film summarizes a certain disagreement between them. He claims the "center of the world" is inside his computer. She claims it is inside her "cunt." He never quite understands that she is right, and that she holds the power in relations between between them, but she knows it, and she never quite forgets it. Or perhaps her act is just too convincing for him. At times, she takes the initiative to go beyond the agreed conditions. He interprets this to mean that she is falling in love, and he thinks he is as well. But what he doesn't seem to realize is that she just got comfortable, trusted him, and wanted to give him his money's worth. "You were paying me to enjoy it, so I enjoyed it." Did she deliberately create that situation to seduce him into love so she could demonstrate that she was in control. Maybe. It's certainly no surprise that he was convinced. Molly Parker is hot in this. I love her refined, purring voice, and her long natural body.

The movie moves slowly, and is obviously not for mainstream audiences, but it's actually a pretty good little experimental arthouse flick. Both performers bring their characters to life. My only problem with it is that the Molly Parker character remains too aloof from our understanding. We really don't know anything about her. We don't know if she ever spoke a sincere word in the entire film. We can never really figure out what is on her mind, or how much of her is real as opposed to part of the act. In a sense, we know that he can't love her, because he knows nothing about her. Neither do we.  This leaves us completely inside the guy's POV, because he's sincere. But he's a naif who must head for a very depressing denouement for the film to stay realistic. We sort of hope that he won't get hurt too much, or make too much of a fool of himself. Unfortunately, we can see he's headed for pain because we can see Parker's face when she's not looking at him. We can see her lack of genuine interest in their sex. She's entertaining him, not falling in love. We can see that. He can't. So we just know he's not going to like how things turn out.


DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen (1.85:1)

  • poor to mediocre visual quality

  • two alternate endings

  • "making of" featurette about the website

  • scene-specific commentary from the director


  • Molly Parker is naked throughout much of the movie, but there is almost no sign of her pubic hair.
  • There are two naked strippers, including one (Alisha Klass) who places a lollipop inside her privates.
  • Peter Sarsgaard exposes everything at one time or another, including brief and fuzzy shots of his penis.

Tuna's notes


The Center of the World (2001) director Wayne Wang graduated from film school, and went back to China to find work. His first offer was making soft-core for the Japanese/Chinese market. He got another offer, and didn't take the job, but felt that he may have missed out, so, after several films, he decided to try his hand at porn. While doing some research in Silicon Valley, he noticed that the strip clubs were frequented by a lot of rich dot com types, and the idea for the story was born. A computer nerd who has already made a lot of money and is waiting for an IPO strikes up a conversation with a woman he has seen every day in a coffee shop. He discovers she is a wannabe drummer who strips to support herself.

He goes to her club and pays for a lap dance, then decides to pay her $10,000.00 for a three day lap dance in Las Vegas. She agrees, but points out that there will be no kissing, and no penetration. She says, "You do realize this is just a show." In Vegas, she does her beast to entertain him, but it is clear he wants to reach her on some emotional level, although we do not learn enough about him to know what he really does want. While she decides that she kind of likes him, she has no interest in anything but doing a good job and earning her money. After the three days, they go home, he finds the IPO took off and he is worth $20 megabucks, and goes to the strip club and pays her for a lap dance.

Scoopy saw this as a pretty good social commentary, and commented on the cinema verité appearance of the footage, which was dark, grainy, and deliberately washed out and, in some cases, textured. The entire film was shot on Hi res digital video, and all of the effects were done in the camera. I didn't see any of the merit Scoop did. From my viewpoint, we started with the nerd paying for a lap dance and ended in exactly the same place. Neither character was developed enough to care about, neither progressed in the film, and the photographic style detracted from the nudity, which was the only worthwhile element for me. We have mostly breasts from star Molly Parker, breasts from an unknown stripper, and the infamous lolly in the love box scene with Alisha Klass.

I found nothing in this film to bring me back for a second look. Evidently, they convinced Wang to shoot additional footage for a porn Web site for the film as well. I spent some time there, but never got past the adult content warnings and initial splash files. 

The Critics Vote

  • Major disagreement among the critics. These critics averaged about three stars, but see the RT summary below: Berardinelli 2/4, Ebert 3.5/4, 4/5, BBC 3/5

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.3 
  • only one million dollars domestic gross


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. Pretty good little arthouse film about alienation in the modern world. But slow-paced, sexually explicit, and obviously not for everyone. (Tuna says: I can't imagine why anyone would want to watch this film, and even if the terrible video was intentional, it was still terrible video. D+)

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