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Jewish Journal

The Problem With Julie

A filmmaker confronts real-life romantic dilemmas with a provocatively titled project.

by Naomi Pfefferman

August 29, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Feminist author Amy Mandell (Julie Davis) and sexist radio personality Matthew Starr (Nick Chinlund) enjoy a laugh on their first date.

Feminist author Amy Mandell (Julie Davis) and sexist radio personality Matthew Starr (Nick Chinlund) enjoy a laugh on their first date.

Like the know-it-all self-help guru in her neurotic comedy, "Amy's Orgasm," 28-year-old filmmaker Julie Davis had never had what you'd call an actual boyfriend back in 1998. But she liked to dish out relationship advice. "I had all these theories," says the effervescent writer-director, whose debut film, "I Love You, Don't Touch Me," featured a 25-year-old virgin holding out for Mr. Right. "Like, 'save yourself for the one,' and 'a woman doesn't need a man to feel complete.'"

Then she met her husband-to-be, Scott Mandell, a hunky movie executive. "I slept with him right away, which was the first complete no-no," Davis, now 33, says with a groan. "And then I just thought, 'You're an idiot, now you're so vulnerable.... You're not being yourself because you're afraid of being rejected.' All the stuff I was telling people not to do, I had done it. I felt like a fraud. I was really confused, so I started writing a script."

The script turned into "Amy's Orgasm," starring Davis as a smug, chastity-preaching author who realizes her theories are baloney when she falls for a radio shock jock (Nick Chinlund).

Like "I Love You," "Amy's" places Davis in the realm of female independent writer-directors, such as Nicole Holofcener and Tamara Jenkins, who use their lives as fodder for their films.

The central character, Amy Mandell, is Jewish -- evidence that at least one of Davis' theories about women remains unchanged. "Jewish women are seldom romantic heroines," she says. "But there's a whole world out there of young, sexual Jewish women who are romantic leads in their own lives. And that should be mirrored in film."

Miami native Davis -- who after "I Love You" was hailed as "the female Woody Allen" -- says her old-fashioned views about sex began in an unexpected way in junior high. "I started dressing really sexy because I loved Marilyn Monroe and all these old movie stars, and I loved to play dress-up," she says, wistfully. "Then I was called a slut -- girls can be so mean -- so that kind of made me go the other way."

By high school, Davis had found an outlet in acting; she studied filmmaking at Dartmouth, moved to Los Angeles in 1990 and had a disastrous, relationship with a suave older director ("It was such a cliché," she says). After a serious car accident, she attended the editing program at the American Film Institute and got her first full-time job editing erotic promos at the Playboy Channel. That also felt like a car wreck. "There I was, with all my ideals, holding out for the one, looking at porn all day and being turned on," she says. "I still felt that sex had to go with love, but I was really challenged. I didn't know what to do with myself except write a script."

Her well-received debut film, "I Love You, Don't Touch Me," turned out to be "the most expensive personal ad ever placed," according to Davis. It put her in touch with Mandell, the postproduction chief at Orion Pictures, who was withholding her $500,000 check until she finished all elements of her movie. "He made me redo my video transfer, my sound mix, everything," she says. "He was such a thorn in my side; I just hated him."

For months, Davis and Mandell did business strictly by telephone. Then she walked into his office one day in 1998. "It was love at first sight," she says. The two were married in an Orthodox ceremony in Florence, Italy, in 1999: It was beautiful, even though "they had to cover me up with a shawl because my wedding dress was too sexy," she says with a laugh. The couple now have a 1-year-old son, Holden.

Davis' next dissection of postfeminist sex: a Showtime pilot, "The Daily Grind," based on her Playboy experiences. And the character's name? "Jodi Fishbein," she says matter-of-factly. "Of course she's Jewish, like all my lead characters, because, to one extent or another, they're based on me."

"Amy's Orgasm" opens next month in Los Angeles.

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