What keeps me going is that through all the lies, I know the truth. We had it. Him and me for a moment. Love and truth together. Finally. And forever. Hey, how many people can say that? – Grace Bontempo
Terry Hackford’s 2010 drama takes its inspiration from Joe and Sally Conforte’s Mustang Ranch, the first legal brothel in the United States. But don’t expect a realistic portrayal of sex work in the 1970’s in this film.
Because of Helen Mirren’s superb acting, the main character Grace Bontempo transcends the stereotype of the tough, but warm-hearted madame, but she’s still ‘tough but warmhearted’ and does not seem to have normal human flaws. The prostitutes themselves seem to come in a gaggle. A couple stand out a bit, but there’s no character development for any of the working girls. Most of the dialogue about sex work and sex workers is clichéd, if supportive.
Love Ranch gives us a little nibble of this fascinating time and place in the history of sex work, but that’s not really the point: this film explores the ways that people eat each other – both in power structures, in violence and in relationships and how we blame that devouring on sex, so that we don’t have to face all the ways in which we habitually hurt one another. People protest places where women have chosen to be sex workers, but cheer as young, often poor men give one another brain damage in a boxing ring.
If you get a chance to check Love Ranch out, it’s worth a watch – not for a thoughtful consideration of sex work, but for Mirren’s fabulous acting, for the 1970s clothing and to see the ways we in the U.S. obsess over sex to avoid correcting the real injustices.