July 22, 2008

REVIEW: Quid Pro Quo (B)

Background: According to producer Sarah Pillsbury (a Minnesota native, like the Dough Boy), writer/director Carlos Brooks discovered Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) by accident one night as he was researching for an upcoming project. While the disorder has already been the subject of the 2003 documentary Whole (by Minnesotan Melody Gilbert), Quid Pro Quo is the first feature length film to focus on it. Starring Nick Stahl (Bully, Terminator 3) and Vera Farmiga (The Departed, Breaking and Entering), Quid Pro Quo had a limited theater release and is being distributed by Mark Cuban's HDNet Films. On a recent trip I saw it featured on a hotel's On Demand service for $19.99, plus tax. Figure that out if you can.

Synopsis : Isaac Knott (Stahl) is a NYC public radio reporter. He's been a wheelchair-bound paraplegic since the age of eight, when he was severely injured in a rural car accident that killed both of his parents. Assigned by a producer to investigate a rumor of healthy individuals privately seeking amputations at local hospitals, Isaac discovers an entire subculture of paraplegic "wannabes". Flora (Farmiga) is one of these individuals, and in the course of seducing Isaac she shows him how she walks around her apartment in body braces and navigates the city in her wheelchair, dutifully practicing for the day she will actually be paralyzed - hopefully with Isaac's help. As their bizarre relationship progresses, Flora becomes desperate and Isaac discovers a very special pair of shoes...all of this culminates in one of the better twist endings of the year.

I Loved:
+ The close up shots of the dew-covered tulips.
+ The underlying suspense flowing through the whole movie, even though I wouldn't consider this a "thriller" in the way that it's marketed.

I Liked:
+ Vera Farmiga, in a role that allowed her to shine more than in some other movies (The Departed, Breaking and Entering, The Manchurian Candidate).
+ The return of Phil LaMarr. You know him from "Mad TV" and Pulp Fiction, but he's apparently been doing only voice acting in video games and animated television since then. Dude, you're a fine actor - get back on screen.

I Disliked:
- Some melodramatic moments, either the result of overacting or underwriting. The visit to Flora's mother's house didn't work for me.
- The ending. That's all I can say without spoiling anything.

I Hated:
- The underground "wannabes" meeting.

Writing - 8
Acting - 9
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 43/50= 86% = B

Last Word: I mentioned in my preview of Quid Pro Quo that I attended a screening with producer Sarah Pillsbury in attendance. Growing up blonde in Minnesota, Pillsbury lamented that she didn't feel "special" enough, that she didn't feel like she could separate herself from the crowd. As such, she said she's always been interested in filmmaking that touches on "what we think we deserve."

Ignoring the fact that Pillsbury did not actually write or direct the film, I don't think I can make the connection between blonde hair and BIID quite as easily as she does, even though individuals with this disorder may think they "deserve" to be paraplegics and/or amputees. They're rightly concerned that they may be rejected by society, and to that end Quid Pro Quo appropriately brings the issue to light.

However, while it may be considered an important movie in that sense, I'm concerned about the mindset with which it was produced, despite Pillsbury's assertion that she is "ridiculously politically correct" and that she would be surprised if anyone is offended by it. She herself admitted that her friend, a wheelchair-bound screenwriter, refused to watch Quid Pro Quo. Wouldn't that cause some consideration or reflection on how you're presenting the issue?

I don't think Pillsbury and/or Carlos Brooks are obliged to carefully tiptoe around a film like this, but Pillsbury (Brooks was not in attendance) didn't even seem to be aware of how potentially offensive it could be. That doesn't make Quid Pro Quo a bad movie, but it does mean that it ends up being an intriguing story that just happens to use a controversial issue to develop its twists, rather than a really insightful look at BIID. If you're going to initiate such a discussion, I think you have the responsibility to tell the whole story.

You can interpret for yourself the fact that the documentary Whole is going to be included on the Quid Pro Quo DVD.


  1. I confess Dan that I hated this film, but I will admit that Vera Farmiga gave a fine performance. In the hands of Cronenberg, CRASH came off more effectively and there was a sensual undercurrent. This straightforward film veers off into the 'land of make-believe' and as you note yourself, the ending is ludicrous. Still, as always you don't readily dismiss something, nor fully embrace it until you examing all the verious components, and at this you are a master.

  2. The plot alone gives me chills.
    The trailer freaked me out.

    That being said, I don't know if I'll ever get around to checking it out.

    Kinda like Teeth. I want to see it but am afraid that when I get around to watching it, I'll be disappointed.


  3. Thanks, Sam. I TRY to remain somewhat objective and give credit where it's due, even if it ends up rubbing me the wrong way. I haven't seen Cronenberg's Crash but I understand your point. In some ways I think movies about these issues can be really educational to general public, but at the same time they need to be based in reality and treated appropriately.

    Others can speak up, but I think the trailer is actually pretty misleading, Scott, making it look like a perverted thriller. Maybe like Teeth, which I chose to stay far away from.

    I'm probably more sensitive about the nasty stuff than the average person, but I didn't find anything in QPQ to be really visually disturbing.

  4. Thank you for your review.

    I saw the movie. I have BIID. I was not really happy with the way those who have BIID are portrayed. You wrote:
    If you're going to initiate such a discussion, I think you have the responsibility to tell the whole story.

    Hear hear! The topic is a difficult one. Obviously they wanted to tell a story, and that's fine. But most people with BIID I know feel cheapened and used. That Mr. Brooks didn't actualy ask anyone with BIID as consultants on the movie tells me that he had no desire to get it right, although he's obviously read my website, since a couple quote in the movie were verbatim what I wrote (the story about legs and jello and ceiling in the shower, that was what my late wife, who was a paraplegic, used to say...)

  5. I have to say, Sean, your comment here goes a long way in validating the time and effort I put into this. My goal really is to continue the conversation after the movie and relate it to personal experiences, when applicable. Art is based in reality. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    I'm sorry to hear of mistreatment/exploitation of your experience by the filmmakers, but I can't speak from personal knowledge about the production of the film. As you saw, however, what concerned me was that Sarah Pillsbury's friend (who is in a wheelchair but does not have BIID) refused to watch this movie.

    Despite our impressions of the film, I'm curious as to whether you think their effort in making QPQ was in any way a positive for people with BIID, if for no other reason than building awareness?

  6. Dan, "you asked for it" ;) I may be rambling a bit at times, I'll try to keep this short.

    Before I answer your questions, here are a couple sites of interest to this discussion:
    - http://biid-info.org a resource site with most of the published academic writing about BIID
    - http://transabled.org - A multi-author blog discussing the experience of living with BIID. More than 600 entries to date :)

    Sarah's wheeled friend refusing to see the movie may be due to many things (obviously we don't know him). Without spoiling the ending, one of these things might be the final twist as to Isaac's condition. I have spoken to a few paras who were unimpressed with that turn of event, as if it cheapened *their* condition. Of course it is most likely due to their (mis)understanding of BIID.

    The problem is that BIID is little known and mostly misunderstood. People with disabilities are often rabidly against those with BIID. They think we have a choice in feeling the way we do. The thing is, we don't have a choice. How could a 3 year old decide suddenly that "hey, I should be paralysed"? It is a disorder. Body Integrity Identity Disorder. It is likely to be included in the next edition of the DSM, although recent studies are showing evidence that it might be a neurological disorder. THe fact is, we're not sure *why* we feel this way. We just do.

    We don't just jump in chairs to go and party and have fun. We do because it's the only "therapy" that helps. I have been living "full time", that is, using a wheelchair all the time, for over ten years now. I am not paralysed, but not a minute of my life goes by I didn't wish I was. I know the experience of being a para as well as anyone could, tht isn't.

    I am not mocking people. I am not taunting people. I live in hell.

    I have been in therapy (you name it I tried it). I have taken medications (prescribed). Nothing touches it.

    Yet, people with disabilities still are revulsed by me. One might think it's perhaps related to their acceptance of their own condition? But seems to me that it would be nice to hear "hey, I'd rather be dead than NOT disabled", rather than the recent study showing that 50% of americans would rather be dead than disabled...

    Anyway, I could speak at length about this, and have, often, on my blog, check that out if you want more :)

    Was the film good for people with BIID? I don't know. Perhaps on the basis of any publicity is good publicity, it was good. But it really left me with the impression of dirty, guilty, mean and shameful behaviour. I was glad you didn't like that meeting of "wannabes", because it gave me the creeps. So much was wrong with that scene, it's not even funny. But also some of the ways Flora interacts with Isaac. One watching that movie, knowing about BIID, can't help thinking "there's more messed up in her head than BIID".

    OTOH, it is doing something that I have been fighting for for a long time: It firmly sets the idea that BIID also includes the need to be paralysed (as opposed to the majority impression it's just about amputation).

    Soo, good, and bad. Bottom line is, Mr Brooks wanted to tell a story, used BIID as the vehicle, started writing about it when there was a lot less known about BIID than there is now, and did a film that is, by and large, ok, if you ignore the controversial premise.

  7. Thanks for that outstanding comment, Sean. I hope people take the time to read it and reflect on the fact that regardless of their personal opinions of BIID, it's a reality that exists all around us. I have to admit I was totally ignorant of it beforehand, so your info plus the visuals of the film have broadened my perspective significantly. Thanks for articulating the situation so well for the rest of us.

    Yes, the subterranean meeting was really bizarre. A cheap thrill that was totally unnecessary and, in hindsight, made absolutely no sense.

    Your last paragraph there is probably the best summation yet about QPQ.


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