At first glance, the comedy Loverboy , directed by Joan Micklin Silver and starring Patrick Dempsey, may not seem a likely choice for inclusion in films specifically focused on sex workers.
After all, how could a seemingly trivial movie about a failing college student, a pizza parlor, and a group of rich yet unhappy California wives possibly inform and challenge dominant definitions of sex workers, traditional gender roles, and even heteronormativity? The film makes the claim that the education Randy gains through his summer employment, both as a pizza delivery boy and as a gigolo, prepares him to return to college in the fall as a man: Just as Randy gains a great deal of knowledge about himself, so, too, can viewers today gain a great deal of insight when analyzing this film through a feminist lens.
In addition to failing at school, Randy has also failed in his relationship with his live-in girlfriend, Jenny.
When Randy returns home for the summer, he is admonished by his father, Joe, for his lack of any visible work ethic. Gone is the financial protection from his parents, Joe and Diane. Now he must venture forth on his own to earn the money. Soon, Alex lavishes Randy with expensive clothes, allows him to drive her racy red sports car, and seduces him.
Randy is not a morally bankrupt character, however. He quickly tells Alex that he is in love with Jenny, to which she replies: It is at this point in which the film seems to ask this exact question of its audience: Does sex work involve the same kind of possession, objectification, and violence for men as it does for women? Randy defines the male sex worker in ways that are diametrically opposed to more traditional depictions of female sex workers.
He is not oppressed by his clients, controlled by a pimp, or violently threatened until the very end. Thus, he enjoys a much more privileged kind of work as a casual summer gigolo than as a professional prostitute who is often trapped in such work for extended periods of time and trapped by dominating patriarchal forces.
Randy, by contrast, appears to benefit greatly from his work as he grows attuned to romance and intimacy, cultured in ballroom dancing and photography, and refined in his ability to genuinely listen to women and their needs.
Finally, he reminds the cynical doctor Joyce Palmer played by Kirstie Alley that romance still exists when he engages in an act perhaps even more intimate than sex: She, in fact, assumes a traditionally masculine role as she—a powerful, successful, and rich businesswoman—pursues a partner for her own sexual satisfaction.
It should not surprise the discerning viewer that just as Alex showers Randy with expensive clothes, so does Edward Lewis played by Richard Gere provide prostitute Vivian Ward played by Julia Roberts with a new wardrobe in Pretty Woman, a popular film which proved a box-office hit the following year in Thus, not only is Randy atypical in his role as a male sex worker, but he is also cast as aberrant especially in at the height of the AIDS crisis in his presumed homosexuality.
Instead, his primary concern is to improve his own identity, to transform himself from a part-time gigolo, defunct college student, and inconsiderate boyfriend into a mature student, respectable son, and loving boyfriend. His actions prove unforgivable, at least initially.
Soon, though, Jenny comes to see Randy as a matured man willing to go to great lengths for love: She is heartened and warmed by him and his parents who welcome her with open arms. How could they not since they are so happy and grateful to have a heterosexual son? Her research and teaching interests focus on composition and rhetoric, gender studies, and digital texts.
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