Addiction. Man’s most dangerous of foes. No other force can alter a man’s psychology and physiology so rapidly, so completely. It can render the most virile of men impotent; it can hurtle the weak among us to the precipice of death. Addiction is a force that can be stopped, with great effort and expense (both financially and spiritual), but it can never be destroyed. It always remains, in the hidden recesses of the mind, waiting for a moment of weakness to pounce and destroy again.
Brandon Iron’s tour de force Hookers and Blow explores this disease with a jarring mixture of harrowing drama and gentle humor. In casting this film, auteur Iron trusts friend and longtime co-star Joe Blow to carry the brunt of the emotional heavy lifting. Iron himself co-stars, and the two actors—ostensibly playing themselves, lending additional verisimilitude to the gritty, realistic world Iron creates—drift down a tragic path. Contrary to what you might expect from the title and DVD box cover, this is a tale of sex addiction—Iron brilliantly uses “blow” as a pun, alluding to both Blow’s name and the film’s harrowing final scene but not cocaine.
The story unfolds between a series of erotic trysts, each more disturbing and uncomfortable than the last. Iron has a desperate desire to keep sex-addict Blow on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, while driving his addled friend to rehab, he makes a wrong turn into a prostitute-heavy area of the city. They’re solicited, and despite Iron’s many protestations, Blow lets her into the car, suggesting that perhaps they can bring her along to rehab. Things don’t work out so well, and the two end up in a motel room, sexing one another up while chuckling at the idea of rehabilitation.
In one of the story’s funnier turns, a disgusted Iron arrives at Blow’s apartment to find him asleep, pants around his ankles with a phone book opened to escort-service ads. Iron attempts to flush Blow’s money down the toilet, the way one would flush baggies of drugs. Blow talks him out of this, but Iron’s rage is renewed when one of these escorts arrives at Blow’s apartment. The scene takes a startling dramatic turn as Iron, fed up, roars obscenities at his friend before stomping out. Iron’s delicate balance of the comic and tragic elements of the story are never finer than in this scene.
Things get stranger as the story goes on—first, Blow ends up at a strip club, allowing Iron to ladle on a thin broth of social satire, suggesting that strip clubs are as bad as bars or crackhouses for enabling addicts. As a stripper played by Ricki White hisses, “All strippers are whores, too.” Blow takes White at her word, plundering her sexually as hundred-dollar bills flutter around them. Even worse for their friendship, Blow recognizes Iron’s new girlfriend (the alluring Starla) as a prostitute. Iron’s humiliated and angered, but he takes it out on Blow, who gets his revenge by paying Starla for yet another tragic encounter.
When Blow realizes what he’s done, he tries to go to a sex therapist, but it backfires when he discovers she’s a woman who believes the easiest way to a cure is overexposure. This directly leads to the ending, which I will not reveal. I’ll only say that Iron does a brilliant job of expressing a grim, cynical perspective on the cycles of addiction. It’s a harrowing indictment of this country’s culture of addiction, expressed with a fantastical but wonderfully visual orgiastic bacchanal.
As a director, Iron makes the most effective use of the verité-inspired “gonzo” style since Manhandled 3, banking on the effortless chemistry between himself and Blow. They share not just a keen comic rhythm but an understated comfort with each other, allowing the dramatic scenes to pack a visceral emotional punch. I also have to note the clear influence of the early-’90s works of Oliver Stone. Iron’s blunt-edged satire and experimentation with angles, color filters, and a variety of film stocks echo films like JFK and Natural Born Killers both in style and in ambition.
Fans of skillful filmmaking and explorations of difficult subjects—addiction and its effect on male friendships—will definitely want to check out Hookers and Blow.