I’ve been getting all this press about LionReach Productions’ Marriage 2.0 lately – invitations to premieres, screeners in the mail, and news that an edited version of the film received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. This is a big deal for any project that includes a semblance of hardcore sex, much less porn. I decided I had to watch it.
Set against the vivid, natural beauty of Northern California and San Francisco – the cultural epicenter of the alternative relationship movement – Marriage 2.0 celebrates a modern redefinition of the committed relationship as a springboard for adventure, where unfettered physical and emotional intimacy can fuel our passion, while strengthening the bond with those we love.
The film unfolds slowly. India (played by India Summer) is a documentary filmmaker working on a project about the social constructs of marriage and monogamy. According to her expert respondents, the purpose of said constructs is becoming less clear in today’s changing cultural landscape, especially as we become more open to discussing gendered sexual desire and emotional need.
Ironically though, India is simultaneously in what appears to be the most normative of (progressive and contemporary) heteronormative relationships with Eric (played by Ryan Driller). They’re supportive of one another, they take romantic sojourns to the wine country, he cooks, they make beautiful-looking love/f*ck, and generally seem pretty well adjusted after years and years together…
Viewers’ perceptions of this storybook (read: conventional) romance are all of a sudden challenged by a couple of big reveals: India and Eric are neither married nor monogamous. Eric actually has a younger, blonder lady on the side – Kara, who lives on a boat. India knows about Kara and Kara knows about India, but you get the distinct impression that India’s only cool with this open relationship because it’s what Eric wanted. India doesn’t have her own version of Kara, a dude on the side, maritime or otherwise.
And then India gets pissed because Eric has weekend plans with Kara. She starts to acknowledge the fact that even though she talks the open relationship game, she’s actually struggling with walking the walk in her personal life. She reaches out to her friends and her mom, all of whom offer varying bits of advice/perspective, and eventually commits to giving her and Eric’s avant-garde relationship the ol’ college try.
At this point, buried deep in my nerdy office flanked by 120 lbs of pitbull (I just adopted a second dog!), I could feel the incredulous socio-academic inside me whispering: “This is just another movie about some lady talking herself into doing something because her guy wants her to. Patriarchy! Oppression! Don’t do it just because his penis sayyyyyyys!!” Like the hater I never want to be, I could feel myself reacting to ideas presented in the film, no matter how much I wanted to be supportive. This made me really uncomfortable.
Back in the Bay Area, India and Eric are dressed to the nines, off to a swingers party. Where they promptly run into Kara. India becomes convinced Eric actually loves Kara in a BF/GF kinda way, thus violating the terms of their relationship, and loses. her. sh*t. She kicks him out of their house, and Eric subsequently runs to Kara’s boat. In an interesting twist, Kara sends Eric on his way – because in her view, Eric is off mark by not prioritizing India, open relationship or otherwise. In the film’s final oh-so-“normal” walk on the beach scene, Eric and India are back together, uncertain about how their partnership will look moving forward but certain they’re in love.
In terms of production, Marriage 2.0 was good. It looked like a cross between a Lifetime movie and an experimental art film. The acting was generally solid, and there were some legitimately LOL moments. The sex parts were beautiful and never too off the wall, which helped further the storyline and enhanced the project’s overall accessibility. This was important, especially given the subject matter – because in terms of subject matter, Marriage 2.0 was incredibly ambitious.
Marriage 2.0 attempts to work through a series of delicate issues that are getting increased attention these days. As critic Don Houston so eloquently put it (link NSFW), India is dealing with the chasm between the theory and practice of non-monogamy. Chasms of this nature – between theory and practice – happen with lots of subjects, and I was impressed with the level of depth and sensitivity the filmmakers engaged this particular one. Just about every argument for, against, and in-between was presented. As a viewer, I comprehended the film’s central point (the need to make change), and I also got the struggle that comes with enacting said change.
But that uncomfortable feeling, it never really went away.
I wonder if my feelings would’ve been different had there been a bit of a gender shake up? Had Eric been struggling with walking his open marriage talk while India had a hot piece of sailor ass on the side, would I have felt the same incredulity? I hate to say it, but my reaction likely would’ve been something akin to: “This jealous dude is just trying to control his lady’s sexuality because of his own insecurities! Don’t not do it just because his penis sayyyyyyys!!” So, basically the same reaction.
After a couple of days of reflection, I’m less compelled by Marriage 2.0’s non-monogamy pitch as I am interested in my sustained response to its gendered message. Like India, my reaction is partially shaped by my own (partially socially constructed) perceptions and anxieties. In this case, the need to fret about some man possibly manipulating some woman – another sort of chasm between theory and practice, a discord between thinking about stuff on one hand and my gut response on the other.
Grade: C (for Challenging) [Vince’s Note: Oh my God, she’s such a nerd.]
Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals is a sociologist specializing in gender, sexualities, work and organizations, media and technology, and popular culture. She has been studying adult entertainment for over ten years.