The Business of Strangers (2001) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for strong language and some sexuality
Running Time: 94 min.

Cast: Stockard Channing, Julia Stiles, Fred Weller, Mary Testa, Jack Hallett
Director: Patrick Stettner
Screenplay: Patrick Stettner

Review published February 21, 2002

The Business of Strangers marks an impressive debut for its writer-director, Patrick Stettner (The Night Listener), who succeeds in both departments, despite a small budget. It just goes to show that you can make an entertaining, and thought-provoking film without outlandish special effects or a lot of hype. Of course, having a great performance by a fine actress like Stockard Channing (Practical Magic, Twilight) helps tremendously, too.

Channing stars as Julie, a cut-throat business woman who fires a younger female assistant, Paula (Stiles, State and Main), when her plane is late, leaving Julie to have to give a presentation without the visuals. Instead of a pink slip, Julie ends up getting a promotion, and while doing a little personal celebrating in a bar, she runs into Paula again, waiting for a plane that would not leave until the next day. Julie has a change of heart about the firing, and offers let Paula come back to her hotel for a place to sleep for the night. While there they also run into an acquaintance of Julie's, Nick (Weller, The Shape of Things), but Paula is leery of him, confiding that Nick had raped a friend of hers while in college. Now Paula concocts a plan for revenge, and wants Julie to be a part. But is Paula getting revenge on Nick, or is it on Julie for humiliating her and trying to turn the tables?

The Business of Strangers is a short and subtle film, and surprisingly isn't as much about the issue of rape as it is about the worth of a life spent in the pursuit of a career. Channing is perfect for the role, and is perhaps under appreciated as an actress, worthy of more meaty roles in the future. Stiles also impresses as the younger woman, not really giving away if she is motivated by revenge or if it's another in a series of
thrill-seeking pranks.

The titillation factor is pretty high in this film, and the adult situations are very adult, although definitely not overly so for the material. Lesbian undertones persist, which sets up for another possible twist among many as to why the two women do what they do for each other. Credit Stettner for showing restraint in the material, as this could easily have become exploitative, but the envelope never gets pushed to the point of showing sex strictly for sensationalistic pleasures.

The Business of Strangers is very much recommended for those who like independent films done with professionalism, and especially for the performances of the leads. Smart drama with many moments of subtle wit, making you wish more commercial films could follow the example of not making every sex thriller a trashy affair.

Qwipster's rating:

2002 Vince Leo