Art is a method for us to explore ourselves and our relationships. There’s bravery required to put yourself 100% out there, to make yourself vulnerable, and to place your raw feelings in front of an audience to examine. PVT Chat wants you to think that it has this kind of bravery. From the first frames which see the main character Jack furiously masturbating to cam girl Scarlet, the film wants you to know that it the film is going to be about sex and it isn’t going to hold back.
Where, though, are the lines between bravery and sleaze, between honest portrayal and porn, lie?
Jack (Peter Vack) has a favourite cam girl in Scarlet (Julia Fox of Uncut Gems), an online dominatrix. He browses other cam girls but always comes back to her. “How much for you to just drop the act a little and talk to me?” he asks early in the film. They seem to share a genuine connection, but how real can it be with a screen between them? Jack seems to believe he’s in love when he’s dangerously obsessed.
And he is obsessed, frequently masturbating as she abuses him through the computer screen, and eschewing real-life relationships in favour of her, and introducing her to his friends as though they are some kind of couple. All of this would almost be understandable if he weren’t also lying to her about his job, his financial status, and just about everything else, too.
Scarlet does seem to like Jack, but how much of that is real and how much of it is a show designed specifically for him to facilitate draining his wallet? Even once her true motivations are revealed, the answer to this isn’t entirely clear. Julia Fox is the standout of the film, much as she was in Uncut Gems last year, exuding both confidence and vulnerability as she navigates her life both online and offline.
The film ends up crossing back and forth over the lines, from some moments that ring incredibly true and honest to others that are effectively softcore porn. Each of the actors is giving 100% to the material; Vack and Fox bare all for the camera. The level of trust in the filmmaker must have been quite high for them to do so given the level of nudity and sexuality they are portraying, but the film never achieves the level of insight I think it aspires to.
In the end, the film doesn’t decide to come down on one side or the other, trying to be both honest and brave, and sleazy and porn, and it doesn’t quite work as a result.