The Masseuse is the kind of provocative adult film to which you’d probably invite an audience of people who wear argyle socks; play a little cerebral background chamber music, drink a little Zinfandel and reach for a snack with your pinky finger extended. You don’t look for the babes in this feature because, well, there aren’t any to look for. Instead, you tend to look for messages.
In the closing moments of this chancey but successful adult film experiment, Randy Spears is standing alone under a pier looking out into the ocean. It’s the classic man and the sea contemplative pose. As the scene is established it begs someone to speculate on what could possibly be going through Spears’ mind at this particular moment.
Given his experiences in the picture, my guess is loneliness…embarrassment…. Dejection…. Betrayal. Not exactly the kind of attitude you bring to Disneyland. Spears, you see, has learned some valuable but very costly lessons. He’s first seen as a 28 year-old librarian and an aspiring writer, however he’s nowhere close to a sense of self-worth. An intelligent guy with a seemingly dead-end career and lack of earning power which is painfully obvious, Spears is maybe too concentrated on his virginal status.
And it’s kind of a strange choice Spears is prompted to make. He has a beautiful and likewise smart co-worker, Danielle Rogers, who’s dying to go to artsy film festivals with him. She’s there for him practically at his beck and call if he wants her, but he doesn’t see this. And if he does, he completely ignores it. You kind of wonder what Spears’ problem is. Given the caliber of girl Rogers probably is, virginity shouldn’t be a problem, but an asset. Rather, the enigmatic Spears is compelled to pursue the forbidden and pay for his pleasure. He sees an ad in a tabloid and visits a massage parlor - a cold, sterile place and it’s receptionist, Viper emotes public relations like an automobile chop shop.
Spears comes equipped for his massage complete with an attaché case that contains shaving cream and a razor. He wants the masseuse (Hyapatia Lee) to give him a pubic shave. Not a thing you ordinarily ask a masseuse, but it’s a helluva conversation starter.
From this point on, Spears’ want list becomes increasingly more complex (at least to him) – next comes a handjob, the next visit a blowjob. Each progressive sexual act has its price, its dialogue, its little negotiations spiral and Spears just about bargains away lunch so he can keep seeing Lee again and again. At one point he even gives her his favorite novel in return for their having sex.
Lee’s perfectly willing to go along with their arrangement provided the relationship is safely established within her ground rules: no emotion. Once Spears starts seeing her outside the massage parlor (his apartment), the barriers between them begin to crumble to some extent, but Lee keeps her safe distance. She’ll call him when it’s convenient to her. Those are the rules. The sad part about it is that Spears is perfectly happy, as limited and futile as this situation is.
However, he takes on step too far over his bounds when he trails her home to discover she has a husband, a child and her own life outside the massage parlor – the chinks in her armor. Old story. Spears gets to close to her own reality and, presto, she vanishes.
There’s a million different ways to look at the strange Spears/Lee relationship which provides the only sexual activity in the film. Spears’ character Jim is book educated and he plays it pretty controlled and close to the vest. Lee’s Barbara is no Phi Beta Kappa. When he makes her tea, she tells him he’s a “good cook”. But as a streetwise individual, she’s beautiful and has a million things to teach him about life, growing up and taking a different view of himself as a person. Sometimes the education can be brutally exact.A fascinating, well constructed and sensitive movie that may not appeal to all tastes, however The Masseuse will probably go down as an adult classic.