Anja Marquardt’s debut feature, She’s Lost Control, covers thematic and emotional terrain similar to The Sessions, Ben Lewin’s 2012 drama about the complex relationship between a man with intimacy issues and the sex surrogate who tries to help him. But whereas Lewin approached the knotty subject matter with a light touch and a hearty but never-vulgar sense of humor, Marquardt’s film takes a more clinical approach as it turns the focus mostly on the surrogate herself.
The film’s detached perspective certainly corresponds with that of its subject, Ronah (Brooke Bloom), who practices this kind of sexual therapy while finishing a master’s program. Though she outwardly exudes warmth and sympathy, she uses this demeanor as a front to psychologically probe her clients. Much of the intrigue that develops between her and one especially volatile patient, Johnny (Marc Menchaca), lies in the ambiguity between Ronah’s sincerity and her observational distance—an ambiguity Johnny, also a doctor (an anesthesiologist, specifically), can’t help but grasp until he eventually vents his frustrations in a destructive manner.
Anja Marquardt feels the need to puff up her film with relatively artificial conflict that generally comes off as sops to screenwriting conventions.
Sex, of course, is considered by many to be a deeply emotional act, so there’s a natural irony in the idea of approaching such a Dionysian act from an icy Apollonian remove. In that sense, the title is wholly, ironically appropriate: Ronah seeks control in an emotional world that arguably demands the release of it. Marquardt’s film, thus, functions as a case study of a woman teetering on the edge of a psychological abyss, torn between a line of work that demands emotional detachment and an inner desire for human warmth.
Marquardt doesn’t restrict her gaze to Ronah’s interactions with her patients though. We also get glimpses inside her own personal life: from something as mundane as a leak that leads to a hole in her bathroom wall, to more long-term concerns such as her plans to start a private practice after she successfully acquires her degree. But the most pressing dilemma as far as the film’s thematic interests are concerned is whether, because of the nature of her chosen line of work, Ronah is capable of actually forging intimate connections herself—a concern underscored by her distance from her mentally addled mother and resentful brother.
She’s Lost Control raises a lot of genuinely thought-provoking questions, and Marquardt’s austere style allows us to draw our own conclusions from what she presents on screen. That makes it even more of a shame that Marquardt doesn’t entirely trust her own material and feels the need to puff up her film with relatively artificial conflict that generally comes off as sops to screenwriting conventions. It’s not enough, for instance, that Ronah seems emotionally isolated from her family; Marquardt also needs to have her mother disappear, leaving her brother in a perpetually panicked state. And then there’s that washing machine in her apartment, which leads to a payoff in the form of a conveniently timed lawsuit that adds insult to injury for the sake of by-the-book third-act conflict. Turns out, it’s not only Ronah who eventually loses control of her emotions, but the film itself that loses control of the most interesting and provocative threads of its vision.