For her feature film debut, Anna Biller also stars in this 1970s set tale of a neglected housewife who finds her freedom in more ways than one.
Barbi lives in the suburbs with her businessman husband Rick. Her best friend Sheila lives nearby with her husband Mark, an aspiring actor. Barbi has longed to search for something special as Rick always seems to be more involved in business than her. Eventually, Mark and Sheila help Barbi overcome her shyness and live more as a free spirit, which leads to a series of affairs. When Rick finds out, he feels he hasn’t done enough to make Barbi feel good and for a while, things seem on the up and up.
However, when Rick decides to spend a month away on a business trip, Barbi is unhappy, and this causes Rick to finally walk out on his wife. At the same time, Mark has left Sheila and so the two best friends decide to live it up. They soon meet a madam who hires them as call girls. Sheila calls herself Candy while Barbi decides to call herself Viva. As Viva enjoys her newfound freedom, she couldn’t be happier. That is, until a series of incidents leads Barbi to rethink what she has been doing and perhaps, give her marriage another chance.
There are films that are made today set in the 1970s that just don’t have the look or feel of that particular decade. It is definitely a rarity but somehow, Anna Biller pulls it off delightfully. The film has the look and the feel of a 1970s exploitation feel meshed in with brightness of a 70s style sitcom, like The Brady Bunch. The tale of a depraved housewife enjoying some newfound freedom comes right off the pages of the decade’s brand of exploitation cinema and yet Biller does it with more subtlety rather than make the film an entirely graphically charged film. Then again, there is the nudist camp scene.
As for Biller herself, she pulls off a wonderful performance as Barbi and her titular alter ego. As Barbi, she playfully enjoys her company in the form of Bridget Brno’s Sheila and Jared Sanford’s Mark. And yet, when it comes to Chad England’s Rick, she comes off as an innocent shy housewife who completely shows her loyalty to him, even when he if focused on his business. She goes as far as even dressing up as a nurse when he gets into a car accident due to learning of her affairs.
It is once she becomes the titular Viva that the film feels like something out of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls with all the craziness minus the insane violence of that film’s third act. We see Barbi/Viva travelling to a nudist camp and even an orgy. What makes this part of the film very intriguing is that we learn about Barbi’s aspirations of becoming an actress come to light as she meets a veteran producer during one of her “jobs”. In another twist that makes the film rise is that there are some unexpected musical numbers as well as a love scene complete with animation sequences and done tastefully and not raunchy like most exploitation films. The ending itself is definitely one that is truly satisfying as well.
Viva brings in the 1970s style perfectly with its subtle nod to exploitation films of that decade. Anna Biller owns it both in front and behind the cameras in the role of the titular Viva as well as an excellent filmmaker.
WFG RATING: A
An Anna Biller Productions film. Director: Anna Biller. Producers: Anna Biller and Jared Sanford. Writer: Anna Biller. Cinematography: C. Thomas Lewis. Editing: Anna Biller.
Cast: Anna Biller, Bridget Brno, Chad England, Jared Sanford, John Klemantaski, Barry Morse, Veronica Alicino. Cole Chipman, Robbin Ryan, Andrea Lain, Sam Bologna, Johnny Holiday, Barry O’Rourke.