THE NEW YORK TIMES
Swinging Suburbia and the Sensual City
A waggish conceptual venture, "Viva" is a startlingly pitch-perfect reproduction of the kind of gauzy sex movies from the 1960s and early 1970s that preceded the hard-core revolution. Written and directed by Anna Biller, who also stars as the title character - a doll of a 1972 housewife first known as Barbi - the film unwinds as a series of adventures that take Barbi from swinging suburbia and backyard bacchanalias into the city and depravity. Despite the parallels with Sade's "Justine" and the occasional lurid flourish, the depravity never becomes remotely depraved because Ms. Biller, despite her commitment to verisimilitude, maintains an ironic detachment throughout...Whatever the case, the results are suitably alienating and often funny...[Biller's] attention to visual detail is extraordinarily vivid, from the Kool-Aid-colored costumes to the supergraphics that zigzag across the sets. Despite Barbi's affection for her husband (Chad England), the characters, all of whom mouth platitudes and even parrot advertising slogans, view sex and one another in almost purely (impurely) consumerist terms.--Manohla Dargis
It takes skill - a certain sly, even perverse nimbleness of craft - to make an homage to schlock movies that treats them as works of art. Viva, written and directed by its star, Anna Biller, could just about be the third featurette in Grindhouse. It's a lovingly re-created, almost fetishistically spot-on tribute to the candy-colored soft-core sexploitation films that sprouted up like weeds in the late '60s and early '70s. Movies like Radley Metzger's Score were planted on the fault line between suburban swinging and hipster feminism, between the crossover success of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and the underground rise of hardcore porn. Viva both mocks and celebrates their slightly freakish high-kink innocence.
As Barbie, a kind of Playboy housewife next door, Biller, with her sultry scowl, has the am-I-exotic-or-just-wearing-too-much-eyeliner look of a Russ Meyer heroine like Tura Satana. Rechristened as "Viva," she is drawn into a trashy cultural odyssey of erotic abandon (wife swapping, lesbianism, orgies), and Biller delivers her dialogue with a flatness that's just expressive enough to be hilarious. She captures a moment when amateur bad acting had an innocence that made sex seem shocking - and therefore still touched with wonder. The real joke of Viva isn't the suburban-psychedelic orange-macramé-on-lime-green-walls decor. It's that this is a truly sexy movie because it's square enough to laugh at. --Owen Gleiberman
LOS ANGELES TIMES
"Viva" [is] a meticulously designed re-imagining of "classy"-minded '70's-era soft porn--boy meets girl, but more important, girl meets free love--that pays as much attention to the realities of the sexual revolution for women as it does the get-it-on aura of wet-bar aesthetics, polyester, peekaboo nudity and color-saturated interior decor. It converts an earlier male generation's notion of swinger gratification into the pitfalls for females of the unfulfilled tease.
Biller stars (and strips) as a neglected Los Angeles housewife named Barbi who experiments with looser sexuality by becoming a call girl, only to find that her fantasies and those of the men she encounters hardly mesh.
Simply put, the movie pops with parodic joy--in the hoary double-entendres and presentational acting styles--and hotly lighted 35-millimeter cinematography that evokes lounge music album covers and Playboy ads.--Robert Abele
Meticulously constructed--from the cheesy acting and stilted direction to the shag sets and vintage film stock--"Viva" is a pitch perfect resurrection of the "Valley of the Dolls" days of cinema. --Michael Lerman
Its titular heroine a neglected housewife drifting into all the sexual revolution mischief 1972 Los Angeles has to offer, "Viva" is a spot-on spoof of low-grade '60s/early '70s sexploitation pics. Biller takes inspiration not just from Z-grade pics of her favorite era, but also from its Playboy magazine aesthetic and TV cologne/liquor commercials. Her production design is a triumph of dedicated thrift-shop acquisition, with decor as much as drop-dead costumes amplifying the cheesiest aspects of early '70s flamboyance. C. Thomas Lewis' cinematography heightens color to an eye-popping degree, while his compositions delightfully reproduce all the era's lower-budget conventions. --Dennis Harvey
Anna Biller's 1970s-styled sexploitation parody Viva may at times come too close to the real thing, but there's a welcome delight in the film's unapologetic and total submersion into cheap thrills. The story concerns suburban housewife Barbi (played by the seductive Ms. Biller herself), whose sexual awakening coincides with the Me Decade's excesses. When her clueless-executive husband leaves on yet another trip, frustrated Barbi is off to the carnal races. She renames herself Viva ("Because I want to live!"), takes a job as a prostitute, visits a nudist colony and stars in a musical orgy. No outfit is too gaudy, no penis too limp to make it into this film, and Biller's brazen art direction, as well as the copious nudity, leaves everything perfectly overexposed. --Derek Thomas
THE ONION A.V. CLUB
Viva [is] one of the rare skin flicks worth watching for a full two hours. Biller is clearly positioning Viva as a comment on the moment in history when the political ideals of the '60s got bound up with the new freedoms of the '60s, and how once women realized that being coerced into drunken sex with strangers wasn't as much fun as they'd hoped, they lost some interest in "liberation" in general. Viva's characters nervously mock their own worldliness, as they grab a jug of scotch and a girlie mag and cackle, "Now I'm all set! Coffee and the morning paper!" And yet Biller obviously feels for these plywood people she's created. She surrounds them with rich color and eye-popping décor, and fills them with the awareness that as awkward as their sex games may be, they may one day miss what they stood for.--Noel Murray
Biller's film is to the films of Radley Metzger and Russ Meyer what Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven was to Douglas Sirk, --Eric Henderson
SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN
Viva has everything you want to see in a movie, rendered in luridly bright Technicolor and filtered through what I can only describe as an XXX-rated scramble of The Brady Bunch. --Cheryl Eddy
THE VILLAGE VOICE
Viva does for late-'60s/early-'70s sexploitation what Far From Heaven did for Douglas Sirk. Guaranteed to delight erotica fetishists and porn semioticians (if any exist) alike, Anna Biller's homage re-creates the colors, fashion, lifestyles, Hammond organ solos, and cheesy sex setups of the era. Biller's re-creation is not only right-on but rigorous; the early shots of suburban Cali in particular are so perfectly framed as to suggest a weird structuralist goof. --Vadim Rizov
Biller is bringing kinky back in a way that few women directors have ever dared.--Delfin Vigil
THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR
From vintage "Playboy" magazines to chartreuse shag rugs, from checked polyester suits with open shirts to lion's head medallions, from cologne and cocktails to green Jell-o, "Viva" is nothing less than a treasure chest of nostalgia! But beneath all the hippies and hair, makeup and music lies a film bubbling with ridiculous humor and serious heart. Viva is great camp because it's so over the top - pushes the envelope in all directions - while remaining dryly and wickedly deadpan. As the slimy theater producer Arthur puts it, "This is going to be the freshest thing since Liberace." I couldn't agree more. Viva is the ultimate post-millennial midnight movie.--Lauren Wissot