This One’s for the Ladies (2019)

“It was a very traumatic experience for me.”

Entertainment’s the name of the game and runs rampant in This One’s for the Ladies, a niche documentary about underground exotic dance clubs built for and by women. These aren’t Chippendales locations; many look as if they take place in cafeterias or local rec centers, both of which make a bit of humorous, tongue in cheek sense since the ladies go there to play and to socialize, all with sexual appetites and a thirst for the men performing. And that’s about all the film really is, too. This One’s for the Ladies doesn’t know what to do with or what to make of its NC-17 material. It’s fun and enticing, but pretty aimless as well.

There’s no denying that the documentary never lacks for personality. At times it even borders on a strange, unbridled over-abundance. Maybe that’s just par for the course in this Newark, New Jersey community; I’ve never been so I can’t quite say. Along the way we meet the backbones behind these operations: the emcees, the organizers, the regulars, and the ladies who cook up food and soak gummy bears in vodka. We’re also introduced to the meat in this scenario: men who are good fathers, good sons, successful contributors to society, and who happen to be able to deliver a risqué, over the top show.

I’ve never seen a documentary about this subject before, and have only come across a far more sanitized version of these same sexual dynamics in the Magic Mike films. Yet the biggest takeaway from the picture might be that most of these men – and in one case here a woman who teases curiosity (and is the most interesting person in the movie) – are honorable entrepreneurs who use their bodies and gifts to make a living. The only difference between them and basketball players, cooks and magicians is that they make their money nearly naked. They’re entertainers, and when good, they deserve to be called artists. It’s pretty hard to argue otherwise.

The problem is that This One’s for the Ladies doesn’t make very good use of its short run time. The film is all over the place, perhaps in an effort to completely explore a culture and a specific experience I can only imagine a small chunk of the population has fully participated in, and the documentary fails to capture the crowd and to build a relationship with the onlookers in the same way that the best dancers do so easily. I like that light was shed on something I was previously ignorant to, and that it emphasizes the importance of community and camaraderie in a social setting where trust is of the utmost importance. So while I found This One’s for the Ladies to be escapist and diverting fun, the film might have been better off had it done less fussing around with vague role calls and had focused on telling a single story instead. Maybe then it would have earned a few tips.

“It’s just grown people having a good time.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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