A film about prostitution which actually fleshes out its characters… without showing any flesh?
by Adam Miller
I see the DVD case for THE RANCH. Seeing as how it’s produced by Showtime I can only suspect one thing: SHOWGIRLS rip-off! So I pop in the DVD one afternoon expecting the same trashy, campy smut. What I got wasn’t smut. It wasn’t even guilty pleasure. It was Lifetime!
What I got was the “R-rated version” of THE RANCH. R-Rated, however, clearly does not mean the same thing to me as it does to the producers of this movie, who from what I can tell are Mormons. I say this because THE RANCH is about prostitutes in Nevada (where the practice is legal) and yet not a single curse word is uttered, not a single piece of flesh is bared, and not a single sex act is explicitly mentioned. I later found out that there are two versions of the film, the R-Rated and the Unrated version. Really it’s the same film except in the R-rated version removes all lewd references are dubbed over (“Blowjob” becomes “BJ”; “Bitch” becomes “Witch” etc.) Likewise entire sex scenes are edited out such that we see a woman meet her client and then… time to pick up the check! The sloppy cuts make it clear we missed something in between.
What’s “left” in the film are a series of loose plot threads which follow an ensemble cast of prostitutes. Most of these plots have to do with the prostitutes interacting with a world which does not respect their profession. Some choose to lie about their work, others choose to confront those who would judge them, others are just paying the rent. None of the plots are terribly inventive—former pimps come back for revenge, marriages are performed under false-pretenses—but the film successfully made me care about each of the prostitutes as three-dimensional characters. I found nearly every performance believable and sympathetic. (I can't help but add, that none of the actresses in this film are bombshells. Most are middle-age, have imperfect makeup, and look like real people, not Hollywood cutouts).
The question remains, however, how the R-Rated version compares the Unrated. I haven’t seen the latter, though other bloggers have suggested that all the sex and cursing I think is missing from the R-rated version does in fact exist. I would phrase it this way: Is the R-rated version of the film true to the nature of its content? That is, can you make a realistic movie (perhaps an immediate contradiction) about prostitutes-as-workers without actually showing them at work? I suppose one could make the argument that for some prostitutes, the job itself is as memorable as a white-collar day at the office and thus not worthy of screen time. Kind of like how James Joyce never describes how his characters travel about Dublin in ULYSSES—the act is so commonplace, to their minds, that it’s not worth mention.
I’m almost certainly giving the film too much credit—the Unrated version, after all, was shot—but the experience of not being delivered the smut I expected and instead watching a very human film about an ensemble of women professionals was wholly satisfying. The film isn’t for everyone. It’s not exactly inventive, but it’s sincerity more than makes up for it. I like it!