Dysfunction in ‘Orgasm Inc.’
Liz Canner’s documentary “Orgasm Inc.’’ tackles the problem of so-called female sexual dysfunction (also known as FSD), an affliction the pharmaceutical industry cynically wants to treat with pills, patches, and creams. But where’s the cure for the sort of indulgent, willfully earnest filmmaking that Canner practices?
She films herself filming medical employees. She includes cutaways to women stroking flowers that have previously been compared to orgasms. For some reason, the sputtering drug company,
Vivus once hired Canner to make erotic videos for women in clinical trials for an arousal pill. The movie sticks with that for a bit, then, after having introduced a number of women who’ve been struggling with sexual satisfaction, moves on from both topics. Later, Dr. Berman explains why her work with female dysfunction is so important. Canner’s best passages feature Proctor & Gamble’s attempt to win FDA approval for its female arousal drug, Intrisa, and one psychiatrist’s determination to stop that from happening.
Canner plunks down interludes in which actors dressed as the drugs competing to be the first female-arousal medication on the market appear as miniatures racing on a bed toward a pink finish line. Worse, she films the aforementioned psychiatrist — Leonor Tiefer — plotting her plan with some girlfriends in dark light, with tight close-ups, at strange angles. You wouldn’t be wrong to think they were a coven.
Yet apparently, some subjects are so compelling that not even bad filmmaking can ruin them. And for most of “Orgasm Inc.’’ it feels as if Canner is trying with all her might to do just that. Even the title — which crudely recalls the agribusiness documentary “Food Inc.’’ — is a dare to watch something else instead. Even though Canner fails to make a whole of these separate parts, the movie’s dismay over its chief concern is unwavering. The real sexual malaise some women experience is as much if not more a matter of psychology than a job for pharmacology. But men — and many women — have built a distressingly enormous industry around a constructed dysfunction.
Canner is either overwhelmed by so much impressive access to so many alarming business opportunities or lacking the investigative rigor to drive home the moral problems of these drugs and the existential problems of these women. Instead, she goes quirky and opts for metaphor. But a shot of a hand stroking flowers solves nothing.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.