Talk about a relic of the past decade. In the late 90’s and early 00’s, independent filmmakers created a thankfully short-lived fad of shooting indie movies on video. Now we’re not talking about the high-def video directors such as Michael Mann and George Lucas have shot their films in. These were shot on digital video for the purpose of capturing the low-budget and aesthetics of video, which basically meant that they looked like they were shot on your basic consumer camcorder.

The Center of the World is your typical “hooker in love” storyline this time involving a dot-com millionaire (Peter Sarsgaard) who hired a stripper (Molly Parker) to accompany him to Las Vegas for 3 days for $10,000. Nothing exciting or original other than this film doesn’t contain a neatly packaged satisfactory ending like other hooker in love movies do.

Sarsgaard does a great job portraying the dot-com millionaire. Having worked in dot-coms during the late 90s boom, I can attest for the authenticity of Sarsgaard’s performance. He perfectly captures the socially awkward, lonely/hermitic and somewhat detached personality that defines many newly-minted millionaire dot-com geeks. Living in a world where instant gratification is the order of the day, Sarsgaard’s existence revolves around video games and sex. His world lacks any intimacy or emotion because it operates behind a screen. Even sex takes on a objectified, materialistic quality that comes off as cold and impersonal.

Molly Parker as the hooker also does a good job. I have not seen her before or since The Center of the World, which usually means she’s probably been relegated to doing television and the occasional small role in a feature film. Parker’s character doesn’t say much during the movie and one of the disappointing things about her character was in how little we know about her by the end of the movie. I suppose the filmmaker intentionally did this as a way of objectifying her. After all, when Parker finally agrees to go to Vegas with Sarsgaard for 3 days for $10,000, she warns him that everything she will do is all part of an act. She does not allow for intimacy and feelings, which is reflected in the cold, sterile plastic outfits she wears during her strip teases. Even the small conversations she has with Sarsgaard are nothing more than superficial, meaningless time-fillers to while away the time before the next strip tease.

The best performance in the movie, however, doesn’t belong to the principal characters, but to Carla Gugino, who plays Parker’s friend. She is a dealer at one of the Vegas casinos and a single mom who seems to always go for the wrong guys and whose life is a never-ending drama. Gugino has a particularly effective scene that takes place in Sarsgaard’s casino suite. She has just been beaten by her latest boyfriend and robbed of all her cash. She shows up to the suite to get help from Parker, who is sympathetic towards her, but also seems to be familiar with this apparent trend in her friend’s life. Gugino does a fantastic job playing crazy and I wished the film had shown a lot more of her.

My problem with The Center of the World is how irrelevant and dated it comes off when viewed today. This is not a very old film and yet its like watching a film from a bygone era. The sexual images that are meant to be provocative and shocking (i.e. penetration shot of a lollipop in a vagina) are tame and don’t provide any substantive insight (no pun intended) into the themes of the movie. I also get that by shooting the film on video, the audience is meant to feel the coldness, sterility, and emptiness of these two people’s lives. This is exacerbated by setting the movie in a Vegas casino where everything is all surface and no substance. I understand all this, but I guess I either don’t care about these themes or I’ve seen them better handled in other movies.

The Center of the World does capture an aspect of the dot-com era and its interesting to watch it as a sort of time capsule. However, given the changed state of the world since then, the film’s message not only seems irrelevant, but uninteresting. Quite frankly, I also never cared for the low-budget video look that many filmmakers embraced during this time period. Regardless of the intent behind it, I suppose I am old-fashioned for wanting my movies to look like movies rather than someone’s amateur home movie.

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