Film Review: From Straight A’s to XXX (dir by Vanessa Parise)


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I just finished watching the latest Lifetime original film, From Straight A’s to XXX.

Like many Lifetime films, it’s based on a true story.  In this case, it tells the story of Miriam Weeks (Haley Pullos), who briefly became notorious for paying her tuition to Duke University by appearing in adult films under the name Belle Knox.  Her story became notorious because it touched on almost every important cultural issue of the past twenty years.  Stuffy pundits acted as if Belle Knox was somehow a sign of the collapse of civilization.  The story was regularly held up as a sign that my generation was spoiled and entitled, which was interesting since Miriam wouldn’t have ever made her first movie if college was actually affordable.  That’s one issue that, interestingly enough, was rarely brought up in all the discussions about the Duke porn star.  If students are having to do pornography to pay for college, shouldn’t the question be why it costs so much to get an education?

As for Belle Knox herself, she became a media celebrity.  She was interviewed by people like Piers Morgan and she proved herself to be quite adroit at putting that windbag in his place.  Rather than asking for sympathy, Belle defended herself and asked a very important question: why was the stigma of porn on her, as opposed to the men who watched her?

From Straight A’s to XXX does a good job telling Belle’s story.  Interestingly enough, it actually goes out of its way to be fair and evenhanded.  While the film is on Belle’s side, it doesn’t dismiss those who had concerns about how she was paying her way through college.  While Belle is shown defending herself to the media and explaining how her career has empowered her, the film also makes a point to show that not every porn actress is Belle Knox.  At one convention, she’s confronted by two veteran porn actresses who point out that they work just as hard as she does but, unlike her, they will never be invited to appear on CNN, suggesting that the only reason anyone cares about her or what she thinks is because of the novelty of her being a student at Duke.  And while this may be the most pro-porn film to ever appear on Lifetime, it doesn’t shy away from the dark side of the industry.  Belle’s first job is a genuinely disturbing nightmare of abuse and serves as a valuable warning.  Make sure you know who you’re working with before you show up for the job.  As a producer later explains to Belle, there are professionals and unprofessionals in every industry and porn is no different.

As for Duke University — well, let’s just say that Duke doesn’t come across as looking all that good by the end of From Straight A’s to XXX.  With a few notable exceptions, all of the students are portrayed as being rich snobs.  When Belle’s secret life is discovered, she finds herself harassed by every man on campus.  In one particularly disturbing scene, she returns to her dorm room just to discover that her door has been defaced.  When she tries to sleep, drunk frat boys try to break into her room.  When she reports that she’s being harassed, she gets little help.  Her roommate remains supportive throughout the entire film but otherwise, Duke does not come across well.

From Straight A’s to XXX is well-directed by Vanessa Parise, who has also directed such Lifetime films as Perfect High and The Unauthorized Beverly Hills 90210 Story.  Much like The Unauthorized Beverly Hills 90210 Story, From Straight A’s to XXX is a tribute to a strong woman who was ultimately punished for being stronger than others were comfortable with.  (That From Straight A’s to XXX was written and directed by women goes a long way to keeping potentially salacious material from becoming sordid.)  Haley Pullos is sympathetic as Miriam/Belle and a bearded Judd Nelson does a good job in the role of a porn producer who shows the difference between professionals and unprofessionals in the industry.

Finally, From Straight A’s to XXX ends with Belle becoming a Libertarian activist and that fact alone makes this one of the best Lifetime films of the year so far!  You can’t go wrong with any film that ends with a Libertarian political rally.

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