Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madam of Crystal Movie Review
To Bailey and Barbato's credit, their documentary Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madam of Crystal neither sneers nor chuckles at Fleiss, even as it watches her go through a thoroughly dispiriting and self-induced collapse. Though the film can't help itself from occasionally mocking the country yokels whom Fleiss inexplicably finds herself living amongst, it could have been much worse.
After making her name as the "Hollywood Madam" who pimped $1,500-a-night girls to celebrities but famously refused to divulge the names of her clients, Fleiss did time in the late 1990s for tax evasion and money laundering. As the film shows in sad detail, her life since then appears to have been one of D-list destitution. Like some X-rated Kathy Griffin, Fleiss flickers through the tabloid filter from time to time, whether opening a lingerie store, getting plastic surgery, dating Tom Sizemore, or pushing another book; anything to cash in on her titillating backstory.
Where Bailey and Barbato hook up with Fleiss is as she's about to launch her newest business venture, located in the tiny town of Crystal, Nevada. Fleiss' "The Stud Farm" aims to be the first legal brothel where male hookers will service female clients. What follows that idea is a comedy of errors that would be funnier if it weren't so sad, and could indeed be taught in business school as an example of how not to go about starting a small business.
Whether it's Fleiss' perennially adolescent attitude or all that "crystal methane" [sic] that she's been doing, nothing about her brothel goes right. Shambling around her house like somebody about two days away from going back into rehab for the sixth time, Fleiss rambles on about every topic under the sun, assiduously avoiding doing any hard thinking about the business. When local tavern owner Miss Kathy (who should be a madam herself with that name) tells Fleiss that she doesn't think "women are going to drive all the way out here to get poked," it seems to be the first time that Fleiss has even considered that possibility.
Meanwhile, Fleiss spends her time hanging out with her neighbor, a bed-ridden former madam who keeps a menagerie of exotic birds, while paperwork and planning goes undone. Also, local opposition is growing to Fleiss' Stud Farm, mostly because they're convinced (probably correctly) that she got a sweetheart deal on the land. Further riling the waters is the unwanted media attention and the splashy edifice she's planning; most of the legal brothels in Crystal look to be little more than glorified double-wide trailers.
While Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madam of Crystal allows viewers to see the train wreck coming in agonizingly slow motion, and makes no bones about what a terminally confused and thoughtless creature Fleiss appears to be, there is little sense of schadenfreude here. What could have been another sickly addition to the ranks of works celebrating and mocking celebrity devastation becomes instead a rather sad portrait of slowly encroaching, drug-addled dementia.
How about a peck? On the cheek.