Constructing a self-reflexive cinematic autobiography via a whimsical blend of home movies, behind-the-scenes documentary footage, and dramatic recreations of actual events is the meta task undertaken by I Am a Sex Addict, low-budget filmmaker Caveh Zahedi’s egomaniacal confession about his obsession with prostitutes. Recounting his history of sexcapades from a chapel alcove mere moments before his third wedding, Zahedi’s tale is both believable and untrustworthy, as the director doggedly undercuts his apparently sincere account about the three romantic relationships affected by his affliction with all manner of structural and stylistic stunts designed to call into question the veracity of his claims. Case in point: a dramatization of a whore-lined street is identified as being in Paris before Zahedi admits that, because budget constraints precluded traveling to France, the location is in fact really San Francisco, a revelation then further contradicted by a subsequent scene of the impish director standing in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Such rug-pulling techniques form the foundation of I Am a Sex Addict, with the capricious fluctuation between, and synthesis of, fiction and non-fiction—a girlfriend’s refusal to have sex with Zahedi is mirrored by the actress’s reluctance to participate in that very same explicit scene; the woman embodying alcoholic girlfriend Devon is shown, in a suspect clip, to herself be a drunk; blowjob-loving Zahedi’s lover is played by porn star Rebecca Lord—conveying the inherent subjectivity of memoir. Which isn’t to say that Zahedi is a liar so much as a brazenly forthright embellisher and manipulator of his own reality, flipping, contorting, and subverting his story’s facts and chronology in order to get at some deeper, essential emotional truth about the causes and consequences of his misogynistic, deceitful, and shame-fueled compulsions. Catharsis via admission, his film stands as a simultaneously intimate and dubious exposé of his most distasteful passions and selfish actions, from his eagerness to verbally denigrate a prostitute to his assumption that a real soulmate would wholeheartedly accept his sex-for-money cravings.
Were the articulate director a less obnoxious presence, he might have just pulled off his audaciously self-conscious endeavor. But as the film is, first and foremost, an exercise in extreme narcissism, its impact largely rests on one’s tolerance for the short, wiry, giant-eyed Zahedi’s cutesy narration, to-the-camera addresses, blackboard-scribbled “strategies” for overcoming his whore fixation, and overly precious aesthetic decisions such as having his own narrated statements be immediately repeated by in-situation characters. Admittedly, his declarations about honesty, monogamy, amorous responsibility, and the sometimes-unseemly underbelly of desire are more trenchant than the fatuous ramblings of your average Real Worlder. And yet watching the cheerily smug filmmaker moan his way through abundant reenactments of oral sex with streetwalkers and Asian massage therapists, it’s hard not to feel that the addiction Zahedi most needs to address isn’t his urge to pay for sex but, rather, his infatuation with the sight and sound of himself up on the big screen.