A Caveh Zahedi caveat: His most recent film, like his other films, is astoundingly self-centered. This is just as most first-person performance pieces, let alone recovery memoirs, tend to be. In the case of I Am a Sex Addict, it’s also more audacious, more inventive and more compelling — even in those many too-much-information moments — than most first-person performance pieces, let alone recovery memoirs, tend to be. And it’s probably the most honest American movie about relationships I’ve seen in years, complete with all the dishonesty and delusion that keeps relationships difficult and worth making movies about.
Through cheekily annotated re-creations of his own experiences (actors play his exes; he plays himself), Zahedi documents how a “prostitute fetish” not only waylaid his auspicious filmmaking career, but also doomed him to a string of failed marriages. Which of those misfortunes is more important to him is open to interpretation; he narrates the whole film from within his latest wedding.
And he does take the addiction seriously — enough so, actually, to inspire some worry over the wisdom of filming it. A rigorous transparency helps: As the romantic upheavals are laid bare, so too are the flaws and tics of their retelling. Whether it’s a flubbed narration, a faked location or an actress who won’t do a blowjob scene (not to worry, as other blowjob scenes abound), Zahedi allows that however much he layers the piece with self-conscious, self-mocking artifice, he still can’t completely control it.
Zahedi the man, who for better and worse sometimes resembles a young Anthony Perkins, comes off by turns as endearing, pathetic, hilarious, creepy, heroic and horrible. Zahedi the artist knows how we all sometimes behave like we’re in movies instead of our actual lives — and how that can be both a terrible denial and a deliverance.