It’s a long hot summer for Charlie Boyd. He’s sixteen, his hormones are raging and he’s just found out his mother is having an affair with his father’s best friend. One thing takes his mind off his problems, the mysterious woman down the street who has visitors day and night, and has just advertised for a gardener. But she is forgotten when a tragic family event tumbles Charlie into a world of pain, a pain so intense Charlie thinks no-one can help him. He’s wrong. Someone can. Maggie, the beautiful French stranger. She’s a professional, and she specialises in pain. Giving it, exploring it, sharing it, all for money. So Charlie falls in love, and despite herself so does she, drawn to this troubled boy who takes all the pain she can give and uses it to heal himself. And as Charlie heals, he turns that healing back onto her, his Mistress.
My Mistress wants to be a story about an imperfect student helped by an imperfect protégée and vice versa. The kind of dynamic that debunks maturity as a straight trajectory determined by age, so effectively woven into director Ryan Fleck’s Half Nelson (with Ryan Gosling as a crack-addicted high school teacher) and to amusing extremes in Terry Zwigoff’s Bad Santa (with Billy Bob Thornton hero to a dim-witted loner).
But situations crucial to My Mistress’s realism, such as the kinky activities engaged in at Maggie’s mansion and the manner with which she and Charlie connect, never feel credible. Nor does their relationship. Gilbertson as Charlie is the film’s greatest strength: his hangdog look and determined ways capture the pigheaded follies of youth and match it with an underlining sense of vulnerability.
Beart, whose accent veers towards French-bogan, is less impressive, though with a more sophisticated screenplay she would have fared better. Throughout the film, Lance struggles to build a credible central relationship, and the backdrop of bondage and eroticism does nothing to compel or provoke.
My Mistress is a story of coming of age and sexual awakening, but there are times when it feels like little more than a sleazy take on a boy meets girl movie.