Brad Armstrong is many things: Canadian, a former Magic Mike-style dancer, a porn star dude (you may recognize certain parts of him more quickly than others), and one of the most well respected directors working in adult entertainment today. He’s also a jerk who made me cry last week when I was watching sex movies (for science!) and preparing a Hot Holiday Gift Guide for all of you – because I finally got around to watching his most recent directorial effort, Wicked Pictures’ Aftermath.
I know a lot of people think you only need tissue when watching porn for one thing (*wink, wink*), but I disagree. Like all other texts, film-type and otherwise, porn is a sort of two-way social mirror, both reflecting what’s going on in wider culture and shaping that very same culture right back. As such, Aftermath is one piece in a much wider cultural conversation. And sometimes, that conversation can make you cry.
Sociologist disclaimer: complete. Spoiler alert: activate.
Released this past fall, at first glance, Aftermath might seem kinda schmaltzy. Consider: It’s young Danny’s 18th birthday, and his mom gifts him with the keys to his dad’s classic Mustang. You learn pretty quickly that Danny’s father, Steven, passed away a long time ago. Danny, eager to feel some connection with the man he never really knew, is super excited to poke around the car, where he discovers a trunk full of his dad’s personal items – some clothes, a guitar, and a collection of letters and photos featuring Steven and a gorgeous mystery woman (!!). Danny decides to figure out who the hell’s this lady-who’s-not-his-mom and perhaps learn some more about his father along the way. Cue the coming-of-age cheese.
Things get way complicated way quick. After a bit of hunting, Danny finds Nina, the aforementioned mystery woman. She’s very New York and fancy and is understandably taken aback by Danny’s arrival on her doorstep. Then, after considerable conversation about love and loss and her and Steven’s extramarital affair, it happens – hot, earnest, and strapping Danny (played charmingly by Tyler Nixon) puts the moves on Nina (played perfectly by jessica drake, who writes her name in all lowercase). She knows it’s wrong, he knows it’s wrong, and so did I… but I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t hot as hell.
There are at least three things about Aftermath that make it both noteworthy and heartfelt.
The acknowledgement of another sort of 9/11 aftermath – because that’s how Steven died. Many people who were kids when 9/11 happened are now adults. What does the world look like to these young people, especially to those who were touched directly by the tragedy at a very early age? Danny is an example of one such possibility.
Sex performance as an integral component of the narrative. The sex sequences in Aftermath are absolutely integral to the plot. Maybe this is because they were performed by professionals who are also decent actors, or maybe it’s because sexual encounters are often integral parts of human social interaction. I think it’s a little bit of both.
Danny goes through a significant transition during the course of the film, and Tyler’s variable sex performances (in conjunction with the rest of his acting) reflect that. Nina’s heartbreak and confusion are visceral during her trysts with Danny, and jessica’s performance really reflects that. There are several other plot-propelling sex scenes in the film, including an elaborate swingin’ orgy somewhere in the middle, but I’ll spare you the details of all eight. Suffice it to say that Aftermathis not just gratuitous jerk off material, nor is there (much) gratuitous jerk off material jammed haphazardly within a wider unrelated narrative. The sex is a necessary part of what’s going on.
The emotional explorations, especially the explorations of masculinities. In porn, in general and where relevant, every step possible is usually taken to get away from men’s stories (cuz we all just wanna see the ladies). But not in Aftermath. It’s both a young man’s coming-of-age narrative, as well as a really thoughtful exploration of all sorts of different aspects of various masculinities: fatherhood, being a son, being a husband, being a lover, being a boss, and being a myth… because that’s what Steven had become to everyone in the film.
I think the thing about Aftermath that got me was that I identified with each of the main characters. If I were Danny, I would’ve gone looking for Nina too (and if I was Danny’s mom, I would’ve also gotten pissed that my son was off looking for that home wrecking jezebel – that would be the story I told myself). If I were Steven, I may have inadvertently found myself in love with two women and not known what to do about it. And if I were Nina – if the facts had been misrepresented and I had loved and lost so suddenly, with no opportunity to say goodbye – my raw open heart may have rationalized having a torrid sex affair with Danny, too.
If you want to get all particular about it, Aftermath is most certainly not a “perfect” film. Some of the dialogue is a bit stilted, and there’s no way that an entire busload of people would’ve not noticed Bonnie Rotten squirting all over the backseat. But Aftermath had me in tears at 9 AM on a Wednesday, and I can’t say as much for most other films I’ve seen.
Grade: B+ as an overall film, A- because of everything I read into it.
P.S. Another bit of rough emotional amazing from Brad Armstrong and Wicked Pictures is Coming Home (2007), a tale of a soldier presumed dead who returns to his small town only to find his lover is now in love with his best friend.
pictured: art a la UPROXX/FilmDrunk, image via Wicked Pictures
Reprinted from UPROXX/FilmDrunk (12/22/14)
And ICYMI, you can read all my work featured on UPROXX/FilmDrunk com right –> here
* * *
Got a sociology question? Need some social justice informed life advice? Contact Dr. Chauntelle right here.