Courtesy of Fantasia

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck Toronto, Andrea Werhun – a local stripper – was ousted from her club when it was shuttered in the pandemic lockdown. In the documentary, LAST NIGHT AT THE STRIP CLUB, by Nicole Bazuin that professional loss becomes a narrative of hope, empowerment, and Werhun’s own resilience and creativity. In this intimate portrait of sex work in the pandemic age, Andrea Werhun finds new ways to do sex work online, connect with her lonely clientele, and pursue her own creative ambitions.

As a documentary subject, Andrea Werhun is an ideal muse. What strikes the viewer first about the dancer is not any sort of blatant sexuality, but genuine warmth, humor, and wit. Too often, the titillation of sex work threatens to become the defining feature for the sex worker involved, and Werhun combats that impulse directly.

Through Werhun’s perspective, the viewer sees the definition of sex work expanded beyond the stereotypical assumption. Werhun markets herself as a muse, she identifies as a creative and a writer, and her own view on her work places an emphasis on connection. In pop culture, and in popular assumption, so much emphasis on sex work is placed on the client and their desire rather than the savvy and intention of the sex worker. In watching Werhun behind the scenes, planning content, and exploring other ambitions, we see the business of her body. Rather, that Werhun understands and is able to effectively capitalize on her own desirability.

Still from LAST NIGHT AT THE STRIP CLUB

It’s a key takeaway from LAST NIGHT AT THE STRIP CLUB, this business-minded approach. Through stories and humorous reenactments, Werhun shares the stories that many viewers would expect from a sex worker. The stories of the creeps, the gropers, and the men that go too far. Instead of giving these unpleasant encounters any power, Bauzin and Werhun take an opportunity to make fun. The humorous exasperation through which these seedier moments are explored neuters any attempt to belittle Werhun. To Werhun, sex work is not a last resort or a bitterly accepted circumstance. It’s a business and a creative outlet, anchored in power.

LAST NIGHT AT THE STRIP CLUB places power in the hands of a single stripper and, by further extension, in the hands of any sex worker and any woman who finds inspiration in her sexual self. Werhun’s relationship with her body, her sensuality, and the work she does with both is rooted in confidence and agency.

LAST NIGHT AT THE STRIP CLUB is timeless in its exploration of sex work and, more importantly, the creative control of ambitious women. It’s equally true that LAST NIGHT AT THE STRIP CLUB works especially well as a time capsule of this COVID-19 moment. Underlying the film’s broader discussion of sex work and ambition is the reality that this is the story of a woman adapting to the times. Werhun is like so many other workers that found themselves scrambling to adapt to lockdowns and the dangers of COVID-19. As with anyone else, Werhun learned to take an entire in-person business model and put it in the virtual space. The original opportunities are gone, so the answer is to innovate.

Though viewers may be lured in by the provocative, LAST NIGHT AT THE STRIP CLUB instead offers a meditation on a bizarre moment. Werhun is a worthy muse and embodies the notion of a diamond made under extreme pressure. As playful and charming as it is insightful.

LAST NIGHT AT THE STRIP CLUB made its Montreal Premiere at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Caitlin Kennedy
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