A perfect mixture of soap and water falls on a pink Audi in a transparent corridor of a laundry room. In the background is “Stayin ‘Alive” by the Bee Ges. As the foam invades the windshield, the lady in the booth yawns and the promotional inflatable doll flaps in the gusts of the London wind. Inside the car another world is built. Jolene Dollar records one of her personalized erotic videos on her cell phone. “I was so hot in the laundry room that I had to touch myself,” he writes to his fans amid calculated moans. After the shoot is over, she bites into a fluffy croissant and dismisses the incoming call from the director of her recent film, who is waiting impatiently for her on the set. She is the star and can afford to be late.

The start of Adult Material, the four-episode miniseries premiered on Channel 4 late last year and available on HBO Max for a few weeks now, takes on its prejudice with unrivaled charm. The porn industry in the present, already stripped of the glamor of the film, of the conversion to VHS of the 80s and the impact of the internet at the beginning of the millennium, is a scenario in permanent dispute. There, the stars that sustain this erotic imaginary come together through inventiveness and self-management, the increasingly agonizing budgets of increasingly austere filming and the pressures of an industry that maintains its business by dint of emptying and precariousness. Away from cult pieces like the Boogie Nights by Paul Thomas Anderson or tributes in the spirit of aesthetic revisionism such as The Deuce by David Simon, Adult Material offers a sharp X-ray of this time of crisis in the sex business, modeled on the grotesque and disillusionment, and defined by a dissection of those rules of the game that have lost their feverish enchantment forever.

Jolene Dollar (the extraordinary Hayley Squires) is one of the few names to appear in that slimmed-down gallery of stars at the studio led by veteran Carroll Quinn (the always welcome Rupert Everett). She negotiates her contracts, chooses her partners, her husband films personalized videos, manages her social networks and sells erotic merchandising. His fame is the result of his cunning, of his administration of the power at his hand, of the safety of his MILF within fiction. But Jolene Dollar is also Hayley Burrows, mother of three, who combines her attempts to share family dinners with the support of her business, the desire in the marriage bed with the staging of her productions on Instagram, the integrity of her intimacy with the siege of the public eye. At the end of the day, Hayley / Jolene is a worker in a business where it is difficult to collect what everyone wants for free, in a territory where consensus and consent have been pushed aside for too long to bring them back into the discussion. .

Created and written by Lucy Kirkwood (writer of some episodes of Skins and creator of the excellent The Smoke), the miniseries installs the conflict from the arrival of the young Amy (Siena Kelly) to the studio for her first day of shooting, in which she distributes enthusiasm and admiration for the team, at the same time that she asks Jolene for advice on her entrance to the new world. “My boyfriend adores you,” she yells at him between giggles and they both talk about ambitions and expectations, about the careers that end at 35, about the limits and the concessions that must be made to remain in the industry. “She was a dancer in a Spice Girls cover band. I had to play Scary but I always saw myself as Baby. Don’t you think? Afterwards I broke my meniscus so I had to leave. I’m not going to have to kneel down here, right? ”She says quickly while Jolene looks at her from the corner of her eye. It is the strange echo of its beginnings, now reflected in the mirror of such a different time. And then Amy receives the proposal to replace an experienced actress, in a scene that includes anal sex, and is somewhat stunned. “It’s her first day,” Jolene warns the director and, as he takes her to a secluded place, explains how things are. “Everyone will understand if you don’t want to do it, but if you agree, make sure you get the best possible pay. Because here it is like in McDonalds, what goes on the menu no longer comes out ”.

From there, the story runs through the effects of that decision: the missed calls on Jolene’s cell phone, Amy’s erratic behavior in the following days, the studio’s intricate machinations to delineate responsibilities. Adult Material it explores without solemnities and admonitions the backlights of an industry that reveals in its twilight the other side of the glamor that defined the iconography of its heyday and all the stories that evoked it. When facing that world of which she is part and substance, by subverting the unspoken rules that shaped her character, Hayley appears behind Jolene’s clothes, trying to collect the scraps of her humanity after the breakdown of her creation, discovering the fragility of her power faced with the pressures of an increasingly distant and impenetrable environment. Kirkwood intelligently assumes the dualities of porn for his own representation: the tensions between Carroll Quinn friend and businessman, the hypocrisy Hayley must face in the social gaze on her work as Jolene, the blurred boundaries that define Amy’s survival between the innocence and manipulation.

Adult Material he enters a terrain in which things are not black or white, but an elusive palette of grays in which all the characters try to elucidate what the world around them is like. When we see Hayley working in a cafeteria, we discover that coercion and consent are not confined to the world of porn but appear wherever we stretch our necks. All the relationships, the one that she maintains with the lawyer who was first her detractor, with her friend whose loyalty sails in the same sea of ​​convenience, and with her own family, of whom she was the supporter and later is ignominy, are settled in a thorny board, marked by unrestricted powers, natural ambitions and unthinkable strengths. Hayley does not want to be a victim or victimizer, but neither does she accept to assimilate to an ideology of cynicism and denial. And Kirkwood outlines his path with stark honesty but without ever losing his humor, groping between lost loyalties and regained dignities, without finding the definitive recipe for the future but with the persistent desire to continue in his search.

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