PVT Chat tells the tale of Jack, an online blackjack gambler in the city of New York who often spends his money on cam sessions and special massages. He begins to develop an obsession over one cam girl from San Francisco named Scarlett, and they both start opening up to each other. On one night, Jack suspects that he has seen Scarlett walking around the streets in NYC Chinatown, and the two must navigate between the lives they present in the virtual fantasy and their lives in the real world.
One of the notable stars in this film is Julia Fox, who was heavily praised for her breakout role in Uncut Gems by the Safdie Brothers. That isn’t the end of the Safdie Brothers’ connection as we also see Buddy Duress who was in Good Time, which was also directed by the two. However, despite all the correlations this film has with the acclaimed directors, it’s a slower paced film in contrast with the anxiety-inducing claustrophobia that the Safdies are known for.
PVT Chat starts off really well with a slice-of-life approach to storytelling. From the opening shot we are instantly thrown in the middle of a cam session between Jack and Scarlett. From there, the film slowly reveals more details about Jack’s character and we can easily distinguish his actual life from the affectation he puts on during his cam sessions with Scarlett. Jack is given character beats that establish his overall demeanor. Many of the choices he makes never feels forced and stays true to who he is as a character. However, Jack does embody characteristics to what the internet culture identifies as a ‘simp’, which is considered a pejorative term used to define a person who excessively does everything they can to satisfy a person they like. This does make his character interesting in some ways, but I never fully connected with him because of the way he was writtened. The filmmakers never really dived deep into Jack’s loneliness and how it impacts him mentally. At times, he is subjected to being more of a laughing stock than someone sincere.
On the other hand, Fox proves that she is not just a fluke. Having actual experiences of being a dominatrix in high school, it was as if this role was made for her. She fully embodies that sexual and voluptuous spirit into her character. However, her character is not entirely treated as clueless or the manic pixie dream girl. Scarlett actually showcases many flaws as a human, and her current situation on top of her growing relationship with Jack raises ambivalence of her own motives. There was some depth to her character that you could sympathize with.
The film does introduce a couple of themes that generate thought. For one, it touches on the isolation and disconnect often associated within the adult entertainment industry as well as the relationships between sex workers and their cilents. Although Jack and Scarlett were able to open up with each other through genuine conversations on cam, they never seemed to be in touch with their own realities. The film also discusses our selfishness in every relationship, which was spoon-fed to the audience by our main character. Once it finally showed the audience a scene that corresponded to what the character was talking about before, it all just felt too sanctimonious.
The film has a small scale and makes many editing choices and shots that feel unconventional. Many of the scenes were shot in handheld and included run-and-gun filming. This does make it feel more intimate but sometimes felt too jarring. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the overlays used to creatively signify whenever a character would chat or donate from the cam site.
While this movie does construct an engaging and consistent first and second act. It shifts in tone by the third act, and there were a couple of narrative choices that relied on the suspension of disbelief, which needed to happen in order to drive the plot forward. This took me out of the film because I could not fully believe in what was happening. By the end, it felt overcooked in the eroticism and undercooked in the story. Running at under 90 minutes, the film could have benefitted with more time to help flesh out the relationships between several characters. The rushed ending left many unanswered questions, but perhaps director Ben Hozie wanted to evoke the silver lining underneath the fragmented and rocky relationship between both Jack and Scarlett.
There are certain elements to this film that really interested me. I liked the slice-of-life approach that it initially presented. There is a compelling story here that gets off to a strong start. However, the film falters by the third act and could have attributed more time to develop upon its themes and character dynamics.
With a little more nuance and less style, PVT Chat could have been an excellent examination on social relationships within the digital age of the internet, but it suffers from an undercooked story.
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