Lust Life Love follows Veronica (Stephanie Sellars) as she navigates the emotional and physical challenges of finding love in New York City. She’s a bisexual polyamorist who attends sex parties — and writes about them on a popular blog. Although dedicated and content in her lifestyle, she has difficulty balancing it with deep-seated notions of romantic love that sometimes conflict with multiple partners and open romance. After falling out with her primary partner, Joanne (Jeanna Han), Veronica falls in love with Daniel (Jake Choi), for whom polyamory is a new horizon as his marriage is falling apart. Soon, her feelings for Daniel and the design of their lifestyle lead Veronica to question what she wants out of lust, life and love.
Veronica is a fictionalized version of Sellars herself, who chronicled her similar lifestyle in a blog a decade-and-a-half ago. In other hands, an erotic drama about a woman engaging in open, safe exploration of her sexuality could feel exploitative, but there aren’t any instances where Lust Life Love veers in that direction. It’s very matter-of-fact and thoughtful in its depiction of characters whose lifestyles don’t fit evenly into traditional boxes. It does not shame the lifestyles it depicts. Veronica’s frustrations come not from her own internal character-based needs, and there are no easy solutions.
Veronica and Daniel grow and evolve across the movie in natural ways, which isn’t to say they grow monogamous: They just figure out what they want through a lot of trial and error. Eventually, HBO wants to run a special on Veronica and her column, focusing on the world of sex parties and polyamory in New York City. It’s a big opportunity but one that creates a lot of cause for introspection, particularly because Daniel and Maya (Makeda Declet), the third in their triad, seem to be hitting it off in a unique way.
Sellars, Choi and Declet are all great in their roles. It’s a credit to Sellars’ script that none of them are villains, either, despite the conflict their choices and passions create. There really isn’t a villain at all here. It’s just an empathetic drama about a lifestyle rarely chronicled on film.
Lust Life Love avoids exploitation, and that extends to its depiction of love and sex. This is a fairly graphic film, but Sellars and co-director Benjamin Feuer don’t shoot the sex-party sequences with an eye for titillation. There’s no sense that anyone involved is aiming to depict the lives of alternative love arrangements as pornographic fantasies. Still, it’s worth noting that the film does feature graphic depictions of sex. It’s simply done in a matter-of-fact way, befitting a film with such a focus on cultural and emotional authenticity.
That authenticity is ultimately what makes Lust Life Love worth recommending. It’s a compelling relationship drama about a compelling woman who leads a life not usually seen on film, at least from the perspective of someone who has the license to depict it.