Harrowing documentary has just a glimmer of light

Inside Lara Roxx : rating 4 out of 5


Documentary Playing in English with French subtitles at Excentris

Parents guide: nudity, sex, drugs, language.

It’s not a happy story; but first-time director Mia Donovan pulls you in and even offers a glimmer of hope with Inside Lara Roxx, her harrowing documentary on the one-time Montreal sex worker living with HIV.

Shot over a five-year period, the movie – produced by Montreal’s Eye Steel Film – shows Roxx’s turbulent life following her short stint in the L.A. porn industry, which she entered in 2004 at the age of 21. Two months later, she was told she had the disease, which she contracted on-camera after having sex with a man who ended up infecting two other women. The L.A. porn machine came to a halt, and Roxx’s life went into a tailspin.

She had her 15 minutes, telling her story in newspapers and on TV before the media’s short attention span turned elsewhere. Donovan approached Roxx in 2005. The two began to meet at irregular intervals, leading to this revealing, often troubling portrait of a vulnerable young woman who makes a series of dubious decisions and has to live with the escalating consequences.

The relationship between Donovan and Roxx is part of the story from the outset, as the director tracks down her subject in a psych ward in 2005, and admits to feeling uncomfortable turning on the camera.

A year later, we are at the home of Roxx’s mother as she and her daughter look through old photographs. “T’étais pas un bébé malheureux,” her mom says, explaining that it was as a teen that her daughter began to rebel.

Stints in youth detention followed, leading to work as a stripper, then an escort. But Roxx was also a dreamer. She went to L.A. hoping to make some fast cash, come home and start a new life.

In an attempt to face her demons, Roxx returns to the West Coast in 2007 with Donovan in tow. She does the rounds, revisiting the key players in her ordeal: the agent who pushed her beyond her comfort zone to shoot those fateful scenes; the doctor/ex-porn star who broke the news to her; another actress infected at the same time; and a sympathetic hippie sex activist named Papa Bear, who shows a surprisingly callous side in regards to her predicament.

She goes to Las Vegas’s annual porn convention, where she meets porn star Ron Jeremy and attempts to collect funds for her fledgling Lara Roxx Foundation, promoting safe sex. All seems relatively positive to that point; but the worst is yet to come.

After losing touch for a time, Donovan next hears from Roxx in 2008, only to find her addicted to crack, “massaging” men for money to support her habit, and struggling with a possible bipolar disorder.

That the film manages to find a light – however faint – at the end of the tunnel is a tribute to Donovan’s sensitivity and Roxx’s resilience.