Review: Adult Time's 'Stars' Is Both Jane Wilde Biopic and Script-Flipping Anti-Trafficking PSA

Review: Adult Time's 'Stars' Is Both Jane Wilde Biopic and Script-Flipping Anti-Trafficking PSA

LOS ANGELES — Adult Time's multi-award-winning star director and chief creative officer, Bree Mills, has had a thing for biopics lately, especially if they also involve as a creative force the person being portrayed.

This mini trend started with the 2020 XBIZ Feature Movie of the Year “Teenage Lesbian,” based on Mills’ own coming-of-age story, and continued with 2021’s “Casey: A True Story,” starring Casey Kisses and based on her journey.

Next week, Adult Time will release “Stars,” based on Jane Wilde’s pre-fame experiences as a teenage cam model in Queens. The title stars and was co-directed by Wilde herself.

The three projects have more in common than merely a genre. They are all origin stories of a sort, built around traumatic events but ultimately uplifting since — spoiler alert — the protagonists all end up in the higher echelons of the mainstream porn industry.

This is a tricky undertaking, as overtly dealing with actual trauma — as opposed to just trauma-related fetishes and taboos — would seem likely to defeat the main purpose of pornography, which is by definition masturbation fodder. 

But Bree Mills likes nothing better than a cinematic challenge. After all, this is the director and producer who turned the script around on “taboo” genres by tackling them head-on and with unprecedented grittiness in the now-classic “Pure Taboo” series she masterminded years ago as a Gamma studio exec in Canada.

“Stars” looks and feels like a very extended episode of “Pure Taboo.” It has that series’ signature acting style, straddling minimal and eerie, plus the same awkwardness-inducing tempo. Nobody really speaks for the first four minutes of “Stars,” and Wilde doesn’t open her mouth until almost the seven-minute mark. That would be an eternity in either mainstream or indie film; in porn, it's sheer deliberate perversity.

A Woman Finds Her Own Path

The official summary of “Stars,” a film that bears a collaborative co-directing credit for Mills and Wilde, describes it as the story of a woman who “finds her own path into professional sex work after being manipulated by an older man, told as a series of memories during her final months as a teenager.”

Wilde has attached a “Director’s Statement” to the film's press materials, framing the project as an opportunity to turn a traumatic period of her life into art.

Mills’ own statement reads, “With ‘Stars,’ we are reclaiming a narrative that is so often spoken for us and used against us,” an oblique reference to a core plot element: how main character Julia, played by Wilde as a transparent alter ego of herself, was groomed, manipulated and abused by a despicable human trafficker, played by a brooding, menacing Seth Gamble in low-life mode.

“Stars” falls somewhere in between those two statements. It is both biopic and a script-flipping PSA against human trafficking.

Trauma and the 'Bad Situation'

When XBIZ published an exclusive, in-depth interview with Wilde in October 2020, she spoke about her pre-porn life in candid yet guarded terms.

"I started watching porn very young, as a lot of people in this day and age do, because it's literally right there," Wilde told XBIZ. "Nobody showed it to me. I found Pornhub when I was in school — that's how people find it, it's odd when you think how young these people are, but that's the reality."

After high school, Wilde said, she decided not to attend college and started camming. Fast-forward to September 2017 when, after a year as a cam girl, Wilde decided to "get out of a bad situation," which she described as "traumatic."

Two years ago, Wilde was not quite ready to unpack that “bad situation,” at least not on the record.

"I was trying to figure out what to do," she said. "I didn't want to leave the adult industry after webcamming, but it was a weird situation." That’s when she slowly took her first steps in the mainstream porn industry.

A Fundamental Tonal Challenge

With “Stars,” shot by the Gamma production crew headed by Michael Vegas and Siouxsie Q, Wilde tries to make sense of those not-so-long-ago events of 2016-2017, cathartically reliving them but at the same time creating pornographic content.

The second scene of the movie, which extends for a tense half-hour, is perhaps the best example of the challenging balancing act Mills and Wilde are trying to pull off, interweaving and somehow reconciling very disparate themes and purposes.

After a lengthy, mostly silent intro in which Wilde responds to an online ad promising, “Make $1000 a week,” she goes over to recruiter Kevin’s house, where she is interviewed for the job of cam model.

What follows is a “Pure Taboo”-style twist on the lucrative genre of the “casting couch” porn video. Kevin, played by Gamble, douchily asks the standard questions: “How many people have you fucked?” “You ever get fucked in the ass?” Then, as in all those scenes, the predatory interrogation leads to Kevin pulling his hard dick out and instructing the model to fuck him.

The difference, however, is that “Stars” wants us to realize, from the get-go, what a nightmare manipulator the Kevin character is. He’s the crucial villain of the story — and of Wilde’s real life — which makes the lengthy sex scene that follows vexing to watch. It requires a strange suspension of disbelief, asking viewers watching the pair fuck for a full half-hour not to see 2022's Gamble and Wilde — highly accomplished adult performers having highly professional pornographic sex — but two people with a much darker and rawer dynamic.

Some of the other scenes — featuring a solid cast of supporting players like Aiden Ashley, Oliver Flynn, Ryan Reid, Dale Savage, Cam Damage and Robbie Echo — fare better in terms of the fundamental tonal challenge, because of the context of the characters and their place in the script. At times, it almost feels as if the film is operating quite overtly in conversation with Sean Baker's "Starlet" (2012) and Ninja Thyberg's "Pleasure" (2021). But the film gutsily chooses to open with that initial, intensely and self-consciously controversial pairing of protagonist and antagonist, which necessarily colors the feel of the entire movie.

A One-of-a-Kind Project

Wilde has said that she does not intend this story to be more than her version of what happened to her. “I was manipulated, and I guess you could say abused by a man in his 30s and groomed to do sex work, being fed a bunch of lies and manipulative information,” she recently told the Daily Beast’s Aurora Snow. She added that she considers herself to be “a trafficking survivor.”

It becomes difficult to assess a project such as “Stars” in relation to anything but itself. It is as loaded an artifact as one can imagine, breaking the barrier between performer and character and weaving strands of self-exploration and brutal catharsis around the rules of an art form as complex as film, as well as the particular demands of commercial pornography as a genre.

It's best to let the subject/artist have the last word.

“I could never have imagined I would be where I am now as a teenager living in Queens,” Wilde wrote in her Director’s Statement. “My circumstances have changed — but what I was able to take away from those experiences will stay with me forever, as well as the experience of creating this film.”

"Stars" will premiere Sept. 28 on Adult Time.

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