Not long after meeting Nick Stahl's public-radio reporter in Quid Pro Quo, the feature debut of writer-director Carlos Brooks, museum conservator Vera Farmiga invites Stahl back to her apartment and slips into something a little less comfortable. Disappearing into her bedroom, she emerges wearing a cream-colored vintage negligee and a pair of leg braces. Watching from his wheelchair, Stahl's paraplegic character isn't sure how to respond.


Having met Farmiga in the course of investigating wannabes, men and women who fantasize about paralysis, he can't be too surprised. Unfortunately, viewers probably won't be either. Brooks plunges into the thick of a largely unfamiliar subculture in Quid Pro Quo, but the journey involves a series of well-telegraphed twists and turns—one of them, a bit of fantasy involving a pair of magic shoes, at odds with the tone of the rest of the film.

Torn between his duty to report and his desire for Farmiga, Stahl surrenders to the latter while still trying to figure out what drives his lover's obsession. He gets there, but it's a revelation almost as pat as Farmiga's monologue about how she imagines that visiting aliens would conclude that earthlings in wheelchairs "must be the kings and queens." Stahl quietly plays the straight man, giving the usually skillful Farmiga plenty of room to overact with abandon; she plays her character as one part Rosanna Arquette in David Cronenberg's Crash to two parts Natalie Portman's magical life-saving pixie in Garden State. Brooks eventually reveals the tragic source of her fixation—long after most viewers will have guessed it—and largely treats the film's wannabes sensitively. But with Farmiga as its poster girl, the world seems less forbiddingly freaky than maddeningly flaky.