For its patrons, The Manor represents a place of titillation and entertainment, but the establishment holds a different meaning for director Shawney Cohen. An aspiring filmmaker, Cohen has been working as the manager of The Manor strip club for over five years. However, his affiliation to the club does not end once his shift is over. Cohen has been tied to The Manor since he was six years old as his father, Roger, bought both The Manor and the motel attached to it.
As the son of Jewish immigrants, Roger seems like an unlikely person to be in the strip club business. The decision clearly did not sit well with his wife Brenda, a stay at home mother, at the time of purchase. Thirty years later the entire family is reaping the benefits as the business has allowed them to live a very comfortable lifestyle. For all the financial gains The Manor has brought the Cohen clan, it has done considerable damage to the family dynamics.
Four years in the making, Shawney Cohen’s documentary is an exploration of how one decision changed the course of a family forever. It should come as no surprise that many of the unresolved issues in the family all stem back to the moment that the strip club came into their lives. What is shocking though is the way that each family member is impacted by the ramifications of Roger’s purchase. Shawney wrestles with his desire to aspire to something greater for his life, but gets sucked into the routine and the familiarity of running the strip club. The association with the club also seems to be detrimental to Shawney’s love life. His younger brother Sammy, on the other hand, loves the business but breaks his father’s cardinal rule about dating the strippers who work for him. He is also easily irked when his father points out that Shawney has a closer connection to their mother than Sammy does.
The inner turmoil that Shawney and Sammy face is nothing compared to how the business has altered Roger and Brenda’s marriage. This is where The Manor is at its most engaging. The stress and unspoken issues in their relationship manifest in both Roger and Brenda physically but in vastly different ways. At 400 pounds Roger’s weight and food addiction is a source of concern. As Roger continually struggles with his fluctuating weight, Brenda’s weight drops to 85 pounds although she is in constant denial that her weight is an issue.
Despite being the link that binds the film together, Cohen wisely makes both the strip club and the motel secondary characters in the film. Those looking for a seedy look at the inner workings of a strip club/motel will have to look elsewhere. The family aspect is what makes The Manor such a captivating film. This is not to say that Cohen does not provide insight into the club, it is just that he does it with a certain level of humour.
The humour, and overall honesty, is what makes The Manor such an unlikely and charming crowd-pleaser. Cohen is able to highlight both the silly and serious aspects that come with the strip club business. He shows everything from his father’s harsh comments on the portliness of one of the dancers to the inner bickering amongst the strippers. Cohen also touches on how the nature of the business forces them to be extra vigilant in staying on the right side of the law.
As far as debut features go, Shawney Cohen shows a lot of promises as a director. He crafts a film that is both entertaining and insightful. The Manor is a film that provides a unique take on the traditional notions of “the family business.” Although family may not be a word that comes to mind when you hear the term “strip club,” Cohen’s film shows that regardless of the profession, family bonds are both important and complicated.