“It’s not weird,” says Phoebe (Jennifer Kim) in the opening scene of Jiyoung Lee’s Female Pervert. “It’ll be really fun.”
After playing her theremin for a male guest (Skizz Cyzyk) in her home, Phoebe gets on her knees before him, and encourages him, to his increasing discomfort, to play the instrument first with his finger, then with a vibrating dildo, and finally with his own penis. As she tries to unzip him for this last act, he flees in terror.
Phoebe has this effect on a lot of men. Smart, forward and confident in what she wants, she is unable to find the right person with whom to make beautiful music together – “someone who can understand my needs” – even as her readiness to objectify the male species (in an appealing inversion of the way cinema’s women are so often treated) is matched only by her curious obsessions with body hair and pimples, and her propensity for deception. That theremin, along with Phoebe’s guitar, melodica and a work colleague’s ukulele, become some of the key instruments through which male and female relations are here modulated, with the theremin in particular – an instrument played without ever being touched – emblematising this film’s no-hands approach to misfiring erotica. The title might hold out the promise of a non-stop sexfest, but the only anatomy on display here – and briefly at that – belongs (again refreshingly) to men.
When Phoebe isn’t at her Murakami book club trying to talk colonialism, cultural relativity and perversion while her fellow readers seem more focused on food, she is fielding cold calls about charitable causes, cyberstalking both her ex-boyfriend and her psychotherapist (Taylor Proctor), undermining various dates with her monomaniacal compulsions, reading about the ‘Hottentot Venus’, designing a depilation-focused video game, and working on a PR campaign aimed to bamboozle and manipulate ‘the mind of the millennial’.
“Why am I surrounded by crazy people?” Phoebe asks her psychotherapist at one point. Outspoken yet deceitful, impulsive yet irascible, Phoebe is certainly an odd and difficult character in her own right, yet the other people around her seem no less flawed, and when she starts hanging out – and jamming musically – with Allen (Joshua Mikel), an extremely arrogant, food-fixated, Lolita-loving hipster, it is hard to know whether this is a coupling made in heaven or in hell. Phoebe’s struggle to find an ‘open-minded’ mate who will accommodate, or even embrace, her aggressive idiosyncrasies positions her as just one of the film’s many ‘middle-class millennial professionals’, so brilliantly skewered in the presentation of her PR boss Sarah (Kate McManus) for being all at once socially conscious yet selfish, and utterly conflicted in their commitments.
The perversion on offer in this film comprises not just Phoebe’s mild kinks, but also everyone’s contradictory, compartmentalised attitudes to diet, charity, corporations, feminism, sex, pollution, the internet, international affairs and information. Totally of its time, ruthless in its satire, hilariously understated, and (at a mere 62 minutes) a model of economy, Lee’s follow-up to Moral Sleaze (2013) is a near perfect film of human imperfections.
© Anton Bitel