It takes skill — a certain sly, even perverse nimbleness of craft — to make an homage to schlock movies that treats them as works of art. Viva, written and directed by its star, Anna Biller, could just about be the third featurette in Grindhouse. It’s a lovingly re-created, almost fetishistically spot-on tribute to the candy-colored soft-core sexploitation films that sprouted up like weeds in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Movies like Radley Metzger’s Score were planted on the fault line between suburban swinging and hipster feminism, between the crossover success of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and the underground rise of hardcore porn. Viva both mocks and celebrates their slightly freakish high-kink innocence.
As Barbie, a kind of Playboy housewife next door, Biller, with her sultry scowl, has the am-I-exotic-or-just-wearing-too-much-eyeliner look of a Russ Meyer heroine like Tura Satana. Rechristened as ”Viva,” she is drawn into a trashy cultural odyssey of erotic abandon (wife swapping, lesbianism, orgies), and Biller delivers her dialogue with a flatness that’s just expressive enough to be hilarious. She captures a moment when amateur bad acting had an innocence that made sex seem shocking — and therefore still touched with wonder. The real joke of Viva isn’t the suburban-psychedelic orange-macramé-on-lime-green-walls decor. It’s that this is a truly sexy movie because it’s square enough to laugh at. A-