Quid Pro Quo
THE MOVIE Pay no attention to this DVD's Boxing Helena-ish cover art, as writer/director Carlos Brooks' Quid Pro Quo is less about the sexual kink that bodies do than the psychological kink that a person's mind can play with the self. Isaac (Nick Stahl) is a New York public radio reporter confined to a wheelchair after a car accident when he was 8 years old killed his parents and left him a paraplegic. Spending almost his entire life in a wheelchair has made him adept at getting around a big city, though he still complains that he can't hail a taxi.
A series of tips points Isaac toward "people like him," and a mysterious e-mail sends him to a basement support group where other people in wheelchairs--and a man in with a breathing tube--talk about their damaged self-images. Things, reliably, are not what they appear here, as Isaac soon discovers that nobody else in the room requires his or her wheelchair or medical apparatuses; they're all "wannabes," people who wish they were paralyzed or otherwise disabled. And they're the ones who are made uncomfortable by his presence.
Isaac's tipster turns out to be Fiona (Vera Farmiga), a freelance art conservator who says she has a friend who actually tried to find a doctor willing to amputate a healthy limb. Her interest, naturally, turns out to be more than a well-meaning friend, a fact she discloses to Isaac when she invites him over to her apartment and confronts him wearing nothing but lingerie and pair of orthopedic leg braces. And she wants to know about his life in the chair.
The world of aspiring amputees and paraplegics is a fascinating subculture that Brooks delves into in Quid's first half, and in Farmiga's Fiona it has a subtle, nuanced spokeswoman. Farmiga plays Fiona as if a femme fatale constantly calibrating just how much she can and can't reveal about herself, and Isaac's initial hesitance keeps Fiona feeling like a constantly mutating creature. Too bad, then, that the movie's subdued, genuinely revealing first half is discarded for the practically pat denouement, where the quid pro quo that defined Isaac and Fiona's relationship--each revealing only as much about him or herself as the other reciprocated--becomes far too clumsy and metaphorical, pushing the movie into cheap melodrama.
THE DISC That wouldn't be such a disappointing turn if you didn't expect it had much higher goals. Whole is a 2003 documentary about people with BIID--body integrity identity disorder, wherein people feel they would be happier living life as an amputee--a portion of which is included in the DVD extras here. It's riveting, and you suspect that Brooks wanted to probe this psychology as deeply as possible, but that when Quid started to reach those troubling depths Brooks raced back to safer terrain. Another extra almost as interesting are Stahl and Farmiga's audition tapes, which offer very thumbnail versions of their characters as they're still trying to understand them and give them shape.