Throughout his mercilessly self-deprecating autobiographical comedy I Am A Sex Addict, writer-director-star Caveh Zahedi plays a game of chicken with societal conventions. Believe in monogamy? Not only does he break that rule by repeatedly getting blowjobs from prostitutes, he comes home and tells his girlfriend about it. What about open relationships? Sure, that sounds fair enough in principle, but picturing his girlfriend with somebody else fills him with jealousy. His hypocrisy is obvious, yet the pursuit of his own gratification blinds him to the pain he casually inflicts on the women he loves. It's a classic case of a man who wants to have his cake and eat it, too: He wants the intimacy of a committed, loving, long-term relationship and the freedom to indulge in his prostitute fetish with his partner's blessing. Needless to say, this is asking too much.
Perhaps Zahedi just wants society to be as liberated as his filmmaking, which mixes narrative, documentary, and animation, frequently breaks the fourth wall, and makes slippery distinctions between truth and fiction. The film opens with Zahedi a reformed man, telling his story in the anxious moments before his third marriage. The troubles began with his rocky first marriage to a French woman (played by real-life porn star Rebecca Lord), which took a turn when Zahedi spotted a Parisian streetwalker who looked just like her; eventually, he succumbed to temptation. In the spirit of honesty, he confessed every transgression to his wife, but she eventually couldn't take his infidelity any more, not to mention his habit of sharing every impure thought. The pattern continued in his next two relationships, one with an aspiring filmmaker (Emily Morse) at UCLA, and another with a film-festival programmer (Amanda Henderson) who pledged to be more open-minded than she turned out to be.
Though Zahedi's neurotic, cinema-obsessed persona has been compared to Woody Allen—which is even more apt now that his voluminous sexual history has been revealed—I Am A Sex Addict has the freewheeling form of Jean-Luc Godard's most playful work. (Zahedi's character futilely tries to reassure his filmmaker girlfriend by pointing out that Godard also had a prostitute fetish.) Zahedi isn't afraid to put himself out there, even when his thoughts and actions are profoundly unflattering; his self-effacement makes the film a reflection on narcissism and misogyny rather than an exercise in both. At bottom, the fantasies that fuel his obsession are just an extreme example of common, conflicting desires for sexual liberation and romantic possession. And when he finally settles for the latter, Zahedi and Waking Life animator Bob Sabiston deliver a surpassingly beautiful metaphor for monogamy.