The Happy Hooker

The Happy HookerSynopsis: Based on the best-selling book which had sold millions of copies by the time the film was made, The Happy Hooker tells the funny and feisty tale of Xaviera Hollander – a girl on the verge of discovering her sexuality, her financial freedom, and the lusty, lucrative connection between the two.

Oscar nominee Lynn Redgrave stars as Xaviera Hollander, a Dutch girl who comes to America and discovers not only a new lifestyle, but a new way to make a living – getting paid for doing something she enjoys!

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The Happy Hooker 6.75

eyelights: Xaviera’s business acumen. the film’s sex-positive message.
eyesores: Redgrave’s sexless Xaviera. the white-washed story.

I remember my first exposures to Xaviera Hollander. I was twelve or thirteen then. My friends an I had gotten our hands on some Penthouse magazines and ate up each page with our eyes, even the ads. I was known to even read the Penthouse Letters. But there was this one section that befuddled me each time, and it was the ‘Call Me Madam’ section of the magazine, which featured advice from Xaviera Hollander.

I had no idea who this Xaviera person was; I was far too young to have a point of reference. I didn’t really get into the advice and never bothered to read it, even though the iconic picture that graced that page gave me pause each time I flipped through the magazine. Perhaps I wasn’t old enough to appreciate her advice; perhaps I couldn’t relate to adult life and ideals, even as I had adult longings.

I never bothered to read her page, but one day I discovered that movies had been made based on her life. I was browsing at a local CD/DVD shop when I stumbled upon the 3-movie set. I had never heard of them, but the name Xaviera rang a bell and I made a note of the title. When I got home, I looked it up and made the connection; suddenly, things became clear. Now I just had to see these films, and I soon found an eBay seller with the right offer.

When I received the set, it wasn’t long before I watched the first film.

Based on Hollander’s autobiography, ‘The Happy Hooker’ recounts in flashbacks how she made it to America, originally thinking that she was coming over from Holland to get married. Unfortunately, she soon discovered that her fiancé wasn’t going to fulfill his promise and she ended up working for the Dutch Embassy. Not long after, however, she began to date a variety of rich men, who through word of mouth flocked to her, lavishing her with presents.

Over time, she ended up prostituting herself to make a living, as she found that the money was too good to pass up – plus which she enjoyed her work. After a  tension-filled encounter with a crooked cop, she decided to head for a high-end brothel, where she felt more protected. Within little time, she started her own house, taking with her many of her boss’ girls and clients. She was smart and savvy, but the law was hot on her tail.

I honestly have no idea how accurate this adaptation might be, but it doesn’t strain reality in any way; I could easily believe it all. Unfortunately, the film tries to cram too much in very little time, so there are some obvious leaps being made: from Xaviera’s arrival at the airport to her success as a high-end Madam, it’s all somewhat episodic. There are very apparent gaps in between the various elements which would have needed fleshing out a bit.

And yet it’s still enjoyable enough: what could have come off as a drama about a self-pitying victim of circumstances or a gritty portrayal of life on the streets, turns out to be a light-hearted look at one woman life experiences, taking a sex-positive approach instead of an exploitative or disapproving one. In fact, for a film about sex, there isn’t that much actual sex in it, and nudity is kept to a manageable amount considering the context.

I’m not sure if this is due to the casting of Lynn Redgrave in the lead, but with that pedigree it wouldn’t be surprising. One thing that’s not surprising, of course, is that we don’t see Redgrave in the flesh. In fact, the closest thing to it is a striptease that she does for a rich client at one point – an embarrassingly bad moment that left me unsure if it was because Xaviera was a novice then, or because Redgrave didn’t have what it took.

In fact, Redgrave expressed no identifiable sensuality at all throughout the picture and didn’t even noticeably try to be seductive. One perfect example is when she dances with another of the girls, but keeps her at a safe distance throughout, even when she’s suppose to be kissing her. Was it her choice, a directorial blunder, or a sign of the times? I couldn’t say for sure, but it was completely out of character given that Xaviera relished her work and felt no shame about it.

The whole time that I watched Redgrave, I could help but think of Drew Barrymore crossed John Lithgow in “The World According to Garp‘. While Lithgow is absolutely brilliant as the transexual, it’s not exactly flattering that a woman who is supposed to be a sexually-liberated temptress would come off as a cross-dresser. Redgrave brings elegance to the part, but very little sexiness or even femininity, playing Xaviera almost like a tomboy.

Roger Ebert apparently disliked the film at the time, not understanding the point of a film that shows a good girl make “bad” through conscious efforts of her own – and succeed at it. I’ve often found Ebert conflicted with respect to sex and he clearly misunderstood that Xaviera never believed that there was any harm or shame in sex – that all she was doing was making a living doing what she liked to do best; she wasn’t a victim or damaged in any way.

I guess the big question is whether or not one can be comfortable with the idea of sex as a service like any other. I must admit that I feel some discomfort at the notion, not because of some sort of misplaced puritanism but because I’ve always considered sex to be a spiritual experience – so the idea of selling, of commodifying it, doesn’t feel that great to me. Conversely, I am always happy to find a certain amount of sex in my entertainment. Go figure.

So what is this discomfort, this contradiction about? If someone adores playing and is skilled at tennis, no one would balk at the idea that he/she would pursue a career playing or teaching tennis. So, why is it that, if someone enjoys and is skilled at sex, they couldn’t pursue a career doing what they enjoy most without some sort of backlash or stigma attached to this? Is tennis more relevant than sex? What about politics? Or being a parking attendant?

Food for thought…

‘The Happy Hooker’ is astonishingly light on the T&A, given the subject matter. Even the most innocuous stuff like is watered down to the point that it barely registers. But that’s also one of the most commendable aspects of the picture, in that it could have gone down the road of exploitation, but it didn’t. Sure, there’s a little light fun, but the exploitation here is only of Hollander’s name. Which, I’m sure, she didn’t mind one bit.

Anyway, all that being said, ‘The Happy Hooker’ doesn’t at any point try to get political. If anything, it’s a light-hearted romp through a certain period in Hollander’s life, no more, no less. It conveys the original author’s sex-positive attitude to a relative degree, and in that respect it’s a noteworthy picture, especially considering the time at which it was made. But it’s by no stretch of the imagination a great end product.

Post scriptum: Two other movies have been made based on the life of Xaviera Hollander: ‘The Life and Times of Xaviera Hollander’, which is actually a 1974 porn production, and ‘Xaviera Hollander, the Happy Hooker: Portrait of a Sexual Revolutionary’ a 2008 documentary on the infamous madam. I am trying to get my hands on the latter. Stay tuned.

Story: 7.5
Acting: 6.0
Production: 7.0

Sexiness: 2.0
Nudity: 3.0
Explicitness: 1.0

Date of viewing: August 14, 2013

2 responses to “The Happy Hooker

  1. Pingback: The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington | thecriticaleye·

  2. Pingback: The Happy Hooker Goes to Hollywood | thecriticaleye·

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