By Richard Ades
Women who seek success in a way that’s both sexy and shady are courting disaster, and they inevitably find it. That’s the usual message of movies about such exploits.
One of the latest is the Polish film Girls to Buy, based on the true story of a young woman who was seduced into the world of high-class prostitution. Directed in a flashy style by Maria Sadowska, the flick delivers its cautionary tale with lots of eye candy and ear candy, even if its dramatic appeal is diluted by its lack of relatable characters.
The protagonist is Emi (Paulina Galazka), who lives in a small town with her hard-working single mom. Frustrated by their poverty, Emi has adapted by using sex appeal to get what she wants. Then she meets Dorota and Marianna (Katarzyna Figura and Katazyna Sawczuk), a mother and daughter who introduce her to the seemingly glamourous life of a call girl.
It’s not really selling yourself, the two assure her. It’s just getting paid for something you’d be doing anyway.
Emi catches on and soon surpasses her tutors in ambition and smarts. Things really take off after she forms a strategic alliance with Sam (Giulio Berruti), who procures women to entertain wealthy Arab businessmen and royalty. Soon it’s Emi who’s recruiting women who are willing to use sex appeal to get ahead, though she isn’t always forthcoming about what they’ll be expected to do for the money.
Eventually, even Emi finds herself in over her head when Sam introduces her and her band of prostitutes to increasingly powerful men and increasingly dangerous situations.
As portrayed by Galazka and screenwriters Mitja Okorn, Lucas Coleman, Peter Pasyk, Emi earns admiration for her intelligence and determination but none for her scruples, which are nearly nonexistent. It’s easier to feel pity for her recruits, especially the naïve Kamila (Olga Kalicka). On the other hand, it’s hard to relate to most of these women, who often come off as starry-eyed children in the midst of opulence that they hope will rub off on them.
As Dorota, Figura exudes classlessness and excessive confidence in her charm and guile. As Sam, Berruti is a puzzle. He seems to genuinely like Emi, but he’s willing to complicate her life when she unwittingly disappoints his employers.
Though Girls to Buy has an exuberant style all its own, it’s hard not to compare it to previous flicks with similar themes. It’s better than Molly’s Game (2017), Aaron Sorkin’s drab tale of a woman who hosts high-stakes card games, but not as interesting as Hustlers (2019), starring Jennifer Lawrence as a stripper who drugs and fleeces well-to-do customers. Best of all is 2020’s Zola, the scary and bracingly original account of a dancer who stumbles into a prostitution ring.
Girls to Buy could use a little more heart and a little less predictability, but it gets its message across, and it does so with glitz and energy.
Rating: 3½ stars (out of 5)
Girls to Buy (not yet rated; contains nudity and sexual content) opens July 15 in select theaters and through VOD outlets.