September 25, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by T. Arthur Cottam
Culture Representation: Taking place in the San Francisco Bay Area, the drama “One Hour Outcall” has a cast of white and Latino people representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A college student, who’s been leading a double life as escort, gets more emotional drama than she bargained for with a client she’s been seeing for a year.
Culture Audience: “One Hour Outcall” will appeal primarily to people who like independent dramas that are heavy on dialogue and have some twists and turns.
The talkative drama “One Hour Outcall” takes a multilayered look at the emotional cost of doing business in the world of sex escorts. The movie (which takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area) starts out a little slow and repetitive, but it gets better during the last two-thirds of the movie, as secrets are revealed and the characters in the story start to show their true natures. What makes this story better than the average “call girl” movie is that it doesn’t follow the usual clichés of how sex workers are normally portrayed in narrative movies: as either Hollywood “Pretty Woman” fantasies or as exploited streetwalkers who have pimps.
Directed and produced by T. Arthur Cottam (who is also the film’s cinematographer) and written by William Norrett (who is the lead actor in the film), “One Hour Outcall” is told in a series of quick-cutting flashbacks and flash-forwards that show an escort/client relationship that takes place over the course of a year. The escort is a woman in her early 20s named Ana (played by Natalia Ochoa), who uses the alias Esmeralda. She is making money as an escort to help pay her college expenses. Ana has a divorced, middle-aged client named Greg Hagen (played by Norrett), whose job is not mentioned in the movie. He lives in a comfortably middle-class apartment, where they meet for their sessions.
Ana and Greg have the type of relationship where they like to play games over who’s got the power and control. The sex in the movie isn’t very explicit (there’s no nudity), but there are hints that their dates includes some BDSM, since there’s a scene where Ana ties a belt around Greg’s neck, and another scene where she slaps him on the face as part of foreplay. He also likes to call Ana a “tough guy.” The sex is transactional, but there’s some emotional tenderness that develops between them too.
Because the flashbacks and flash-forwards in the movie are not in chronological order, this isn’t the type of movie that should be watched as background to other things that viewers are doing at the same time. It’s recommended that viewers pay full attention to the different clothes and attitudes that Ana and Greg have in these quick-cutting scenes, because they indicate the different stages of the relationship and help explain what happens during a pivotal dinner scene that happens later in the movie.
The flashback scenes include Ana and Greg’s first meeting, when they’re eager to make a good first impression on each other. In watching the flashbacks, which are like pieces of a puzzle, viewers can discern that over time, Ana and Greg opened up to each other about their personal lives. They eventually end up meeting every Thursday night for one hour for about a year. They don’t fall in love, but they develop a fondness for each other.
Ana, who comes from the working-class California city of Richmond, tells Greg that she’s a biochemistry major at a prestigious university that is not named, but it’s implied later in the movie that it’s Stanford University. The movie’s present-day part of the story takes place during the few days before Ana’s graduation ceremony. Ana doesn’t tell Greg much about her student life, except to say that her roommate Shannon (played by Shannon Leigh Godwin), who’s a student in the same graduating class, often gets on Ana’s nerves because she thinks Shannon is spoiled, parties too much, and is irresponsible, because Shannon is often late with her share of the rent.
Greg has been divorced for about 12 years. And he admits that he was to blame for his marriage failing because he left his wife for another woman. The relationship with the mistress didn’t work out either. Greg also says that part of the reason why he cheated on his wife was because he was lonely, since his wife took a job that required her to work “halfway around the world.”
Meanwhile, the movie shows that even though Greg and Ana have become emotionally intimate, they still have secrets that they’ve kept from each other. Greg has been giving Ana gifts (such as a watch), which starts to blur the line of whether or not he’s a client or a “friend with benefits”/boyfriend. As time goes on in their relationship, it seems that these blurred lines are starting to bother Ana as she gets closer to graduation.
Greg is the type of person who likes to plan ahead. (It’s a personality trait that foreshadows something that’s revealed later in the movie.) Ana is more of a “go with the flow” type of person who believes it’s more important to live in the present day. When Greg asks Ana what her plans are after graduation, it annoys her. And he’s irritated that she doesn’t have any set plans. And so, she and Greg have arguments that start out as petty but later become more serious.
It’s not said out loud, but viewers can also figure out that Ana might also be thinking about how her relationship with Greg will change after she graduates. She’s presumably in this type of business to help pay for her tuition or other college expenses. What’s going to happen when she doesn’t need to pay those expenses anymore?
And what is it doing her self-esteem that she has to keep this illegal sex work a secret from most people she knows and is essentially living a lie? Just like many sex workers who think they’re only going to be doing this type of work for a short while, it seems that Ana is aware of how quickly someone can to get addicted to the easy money. It might be why she’s not as concerned with finding a job as other soon-to-be-college graduates would be.
And it’s also why months ago, she stopped working with the escort agency where Greg found her, and Ana has been seeing him as an independent sex worker, so she can pocket all the cash for herself. It’s a secret that Greg has known about for a while, but he tells Ana that he knows about this secret during one of their arguments. He blurts it out when Ana pretends that she’s going to call her driver for “security backup” when their argument gets too heated.
In reality, Ana doesn’t have a driver. The “driver” she pretends to call is a guy she knows who’s around her age named Gabriel Armijo (played by Octavio Rodriguez), who doesn’t even have a car. When she calls Gabriel, he’s sitting on a couch with his best friend Ellery Hughes (played by Will Holbrook), who appears to be his roommate. Gabriel and Ellery are stoners who like to smoke marijuana, and this isn’t the last time they’ll be seen in the story.
As for Greg, he comes across as a lonely divorcé who’s having a problem finding lasting love. But just as Ana isn’t a “hooker with a heart of gold,” Greg is not the pitiful sad sack that he first appears to be. And the mind games that he and Ana have been playing with each other end up colliding.
The night before the graduation ceremony, Ana and Shannon are having a celebration dinner at an Italian restaurant with Shannon’s mother Stacy (played by Kristin Carey), who comes across as sophisticated and very tolerant of Shannon’s whining about how another graduation party for her was “boring.” Shannon does cocaine before going to the dinner, and she pressures Ana to do cocaine with her.
It’s at this dinner where things start to get more interesting in the movie. It’s enough to say that more secrets are revealed. And ultimately, Ana has to come to terms with the double life she’s been leading and what kind of person she wants to be moving forward.
“One Hour Outcall” makes very good use of its obvious low budget. It has melodrama, but not the type of melodrama that’s in a Lifetime movie. (Lifetime has done its share of movies about women with secret sex lives.) “One Hour Outcall” has got the type of wordy dialogue that sounds like this story could easily have been a play. But the movie’s quick-cutting editing (by Sam Hook) to tell the non-linear parts of the story could only work for an on-screen format.
This editing technique will annoy some viewers who don’t want to pay too much attention to put the pieces of the puzzle together and prefer that a story is told chronologically. However, it actually would have been more boring if the movie had sauntered along in chronological order. The editing gives it an emotionally urgent pace that makes the last third of the movie pack a bigger punch. This editing technique also makes sense because it’s very clear by the end of the movie (which ends very abruptly) that the entire story is told from Ana’s perspective, and the flashbacks are very similar to how many people would remember parts of their lives that happened over the previous year.
Ochoa does a very good portrayal of someone who has to face some harsh realities because she’s been leading a double life. Ana starts out as eager-to-please with Greg, then she turns almost arrogant when she thinks she has the upper hand in the relationship, and then she begins showing vulnerabilities when she opens up to him about her personal life. It becomes clear that she’s a lot more emotionally invested in this relationship than she thought she would be.
The movie also doesn’t shy away from the racial dynamics of her being a Latina escort working for a white client. In one scene, Greg tells Ana that he had to do some personal budget cuts and he had to decide to keep Ana or keep his maid Lupe. Ana tells Greg she’s offended by his “racially insensitive comment,” while Greg says he didn’t realize that what he said would racially offend her. It sets off another argument between them.
Norrett’s portrayal of Greg is fairly nuanced, since viewers aren’t quite sure until a certain part of the movie what he really thinks of Ana and their arrangement. The supporting characters are also pretty good in their roles, with Holbrook as stoner Ellery providing the most comic relief. Godwin (who looks a little bit like how Chelsea Clinton looked in her 20s) has some big emotional scenes in the film that she handles quite well.
Shannon’s mother Stacy is essentially a calming presence in the story, so Carey’s role is mostly to react to other people and also try to put things in an optimistic perspective when people around her get upset. Rodriguez portrays Gabriel as a mild-mannered goofball who can be fairly oblivious to social cues that reach a level of discomfort.
Some people might not like how “One Hour Outcall” ends, but the movie isn’t about tying things up nicely in a neat little bow. It’s more of a psychological study of the effects of being a sex worker and how separating emotions from the work is a lot easier said than done. Under the brisk and concise direction of Cottam, “One Hour Outcall” isn’t a sweeping overview of escort work but rather a compelling and intimate snapshot of the emotional toll it takes on one woman.
Gravitas Ventures released “One Hour Outcall” on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on September 15, 2020.