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You Mean Everything to Me review
A young woman falls for a manipulative and controlling DJ.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Bryan Wizemann

Starring: Morgan Saylor, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsay Burge, Tom Riis Farrell, Jacinto Taras Riddick, Nicholas Webber

You Mean Everything to Me poster

Public opinion on sex work has rarely been as divided as in today's world. On one hand it's gained mainstream acceptance with the likes of OnlyFans attracting everyone from your mate's mum to minor celebrities with the promise of making money by flashing your goods. At the same time there's a vocal movement that decries any kind of sex work as misogynist exploitation.

American cinema tends to take the latter view. I'm struggling to think of too many movies that put a positive spin on the sex industry. Even when sex workers are portrayed as being in control in the likes of Showgirls and Hustlers, it's against the backdrop of a sleazy world.

You Mean Everything to Me review

Writer-director Bryan Wizemann's You mean Everything to Me has all the trappings of prestige American indie cinema, but its curtain-twitching view of sex work makes it a modern descendant of movies like Reefer Madness, where vulnerable youngsters were set down a horrifying path by the merest indiscretion.

The film's heroine is named Cassandra (Morgan Saylor, Timothee Chalamet's sister from TV's Homeland). A quick google tells me Cassandra means "the one who shines and excels over men," so I can only assume Wizemann chose this name ironically. Cassandra turns up at her sister's home, hoping to crash on the couch for the night. When her sis's husband "accidentally" walks in on her on the toilet, he pretends she was the one making advances, and Cassandra is promptly kicked out.

Popping into a local bar, Cassandra is approached by creepy DJ Nathan (Ben Rosenfield), who wins her over with his dubious charms. A one night stand leads to an extended stay at Nathan's apartment. There's talk of raising the money to follow their mutual dreams of opening a nightclub and a vintage clothing store. But how could they possibly get their hands on the necessary funds for such pipedreams? Wouldn't you know it, Nathan DJs in a strip joint currently looking for dancers.

You Mean Everything to Me review

Thus begins Cassandra's descent into the underworld of sex work, with a night on the pole soon leading to the temptation of prostitution. Cassandra attempts to extricate herself from the situation at several points, but keeps going back to Nathan, who has a manipulative hold over her.

Maybe it's because I'm not a vulnerable woman in her early twenties, but I simply couldn't buy the weedy Rosenfield as some sort of Charles Manson figure hypnotising young women into following his every whim. The whole affair progresses at an improbably fast rate, with Cassandra immediately falling for the sort of guy most women would tell to sling their hook within seconds of his initial approach.

Perhaps part of the problem is that Cassandra is too experienced and knowing to become this sort of victim so easily. At several points the film demonstrates her resilience, suggesting she knows exactly what she's gotten involved in, which leads to more head-scratching on the viewer's part.

You Mean Everything to Me review

Had we been given more details about Cassandra's relationship with her family it might have been easier to accept her actions. It's clear she has an estranged relationship with her sister, but she's quickly forgiven, and her mom seems perfectly willing to accept her into her home. There are no addiction issues at play here, which usually account for young people steering clear of loving families.

While I never bought into Cassandra's predicament, the strength of Wizemann's direction and Saylor's performance kept me involved. The final 20 minutes consists of an extended sequence that's as tense and nerve-wracking as anything I've seen recently, as Cassandra finally attempts to escape the clutches of Nathan. Had I been more convinced that a girl as strong-willed as Cassandra would allow herself to get trapped in such a plight, I can only imagine how effective the movie's final act would have been.

You Mean Everything to Me
 is in US cinemas from December 17th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

2021 movie reviews