Christine Fugate’s lean and often demoralizing documentary sidesteps the bear-trap of voyeurism. It follows the story of twenty-something porn star Stacy Valentine, who dumps her unsavory husband and moves to California looking for a porn industry breakthrough. But behind the randy girl is meek and insecure Stacy Baker, an adopted child from Tulsa, Oklahoma who more than anything wants to please herself, and others, and get a hug for her troubles. Once contracted, Valentine gradually becomes a solace-starved Barbie in a doll house whose amply lubricated residents are better are more generous with bodily fluids than comfort.
When adult awards elude her, she remakes her body (liposuction, breast reductions, belly fat pumped into her lips), a near-military process worthy of a Purple Heart. It’s not clear what’s more painful, the surgeries or the quick ascent to porn stardom, since anatomical surges and the praise of directors don’t repair her fractured self-esteem. Boyfriends disappoint; a new tattoo denounces trust; incidental meltdowns increase. Valentine is unstinting. She exists midway between self-consciousness and exhibitionism, in what John Updike once called insouciant insecurity. She speaks directly into the camera, as if to befriend it, to make it care.
Steeped in artifice and movies with titles that reek of absurdist puns (“My Horny Valentine”), the porn industry is a greased pig for filmmakers. Fugate’s head-on approach cures those blues. She encourages Valentine to talk and the little girl won’t stop. Luckily, or perhaps sadly, she has much to say, none of it particularly hopeful, let alone sexy.