Saturday, September 15, 2012

With Factory Girl, I Swear Off Biopic Fiction For A While

The Good: Acting, Moments of movement
The Bad: Utterly unlikable characters, Lack of plot, Uneven pacing, Not as advertised
The Basics: Can't the bottom line, just once, be "This is a bad film, not worth your time?"

First off, I've come to hate reviewing films that are supposedly fictional biographies of people who have ever been alive. The reason I hate this is invariably, people get mixed up with the review and its critique being about the actual person who is the subject of the biopic as opposed to the character presented on screen in the film I am reviewing. I know nothing about Edie Sedgwick, the subject of Factory Girl, so when I reference her, I am writing solely about the character presented in this film. The second thing one ought to know off the bat is that anytime a movie needs to advertise that it's sexy (or in this case: "SEXY. UNCUT. UNRATED.") I feel a bit wary. The last film I saw that was truly sexy was Bound (reviewed here!) and no one had to tell me it was sexy. Finally, I've seriously come to resent reviewing DVDs of films I find I do not enjoy. There's something offensive about having to check out the DVD bonus features to write a thorough review on a disc for a film that bored the crap out one anyway. I mention this because I'll openly admit I didn't make it all the way back through Factory Girl with the commentary on; I just couldn't do it. What I heard didn't make me appreciate the film more, I was done with it.

Edie Sedgwick, wealthy trust fund girl, finds herself in New York City in the early 1960s where she meets Andy Warhol, who is instantly taken with her. Warhol puts her in one of his artistic, underground films and she is soon on his arm all around town, promoting Warhol's art and not being paid for it. Soon, Edie is into drugs, Warhol has moved on and Edie's mental health and finances are on the verge of a collapse.

And by that time, the audience doesn't care.

Seriously, the most interesting moments in Factory Girl all come before or as Edie and Warhol meet. Why? Because at that point in the film, Edie is an artist looking for a break who glides into the New York City art scene with a cute little shimmy and the dialogue between her and Warhol when they meet is quirky, weird and surreal. It's all downhill from there.

There comes a point fairly early on in the film when Edie's fortunes begin to change while she helps Warhol's stature and sales increase where she approaches Warhol for money for her work and he turns her down. No compelling reason is given for why she does not walk at that point. The two aren't intimately close, he's done nothing for her career and, in fact, she doesn't seem to be having all that much fun with him. The character makes no real sense and soon she degenerates into (essentially) a crack whore (yes, I know the difference between speed, heroin and crack, but no one calls them 'heroin whores,' though it does have a pretty good ring to it). If I wanted to see that, which I don't, I'd watch Requiem For A Dream (reviewed here!) again. You know, I guess I just find it hard to empathize with characters who make the choice to get into drugs; the end result is not terribly surprising.

But worse than the vacuous nature of the characters and their pointless degeneration into drug addicts (this is truly turning me off to films about anyone in the 60s and 70s as I grew up pretty well indoctrinated by "Just Say No" and the whole "everybody was doing it" mentality just reeks of stupidity to me) is the way too many of the actors overwhelm the roles they are in. So, for example, in Factory Girl, a number of the characters are either unnamed or their names are not said with any frequency as to associate them with their character. The perfect example is Edie's henchman Jimmy Fallon. No, her henchman is Chuck Wein, but from the moment he appears on the screen, I groaned and said "That's Jimmy Fallon." And throughout the film, it was Jimmy Fallon as . . . no, it was pretty much just Fallon walking around the film.

And it's not just Fallon who sticks out as himself. Mena Suvari's entrance into the film (sure, she's a brunette here, but the eyes are a dead giveaway!) is marked similarly by "Hey! That's Mena Suvari!" And she does so little in the film that every time she appears, the MS alarm goes off. Edward Herrmann and Illeana Douglas are stuck in similar niches. Even Guy Pearce as Andy Warhol has an element of Guy Pearce as Andy Warhol. From the moment I recognized the actor as Pearce, he stood out some and never fell back within the character.

Why, then, do I list the acting as one of the few decent things about this movie? First, Hayden Christensen. Yup, Hayden Christensen. Writers Aaron Richard Golub, Captain Mauzner, and Simon Monjack and director George Hickenlooper may have chickened out or not gotten the clearance to call Christensen's character anything other than "Musician" but from the moment Christensen appears on screen, he is Bob Dylan. And you know what, it's not "Hayden Christensen as Bob Dylan," it's Bob Dylan. He's that good. No one is more surprised than I!

Sienna Miller does a fine job of playing Edie Sedgwick. This is the first film I've seen Miller in and she did a fine job, easily convincing me of the character of Edie (whether I liked the character or not). Miller has a wonderful sense of movement that immediately lures the viewer in to watching her, at the very least.

But the movie is not terribly sexy, unlike what it claims. Maybe it's just me, but considering most of the nudity in the film involves bruised buttocks getting needles shoved in them (that's not a euphemism, most of the film's nudity comes in the form of the drug use context), it's hard to call the movie sexy. There is a decent love scene between Edie and "the Musician," but it comes so late in the film that anyone but the most stouthearted of film viewers will have given up on the movie well before then.

As for the "Unrated" aspect, I'm surprised that this film didn't get an "R." Sure, there's a lot of drug use and bare breasts, but it's nothing an 18 year-old can't handle.

As for the DVD extras (I suffered through them, so please read this!), most of them are self-absorbed tributes to the real Edie Sedgwick and they are dull. George Hickenlooper talks about what a fascinating woman Edie was, but after sitting through his 99 minute movie, he failed to convince me. Repeating it over and over again in the behind-the-scenes featurette, the commentary and the section on the real Edie didn't sell me. Other bonuses include Guy Pearce's video diary, Sienna Miller's casting tapes (hoorah for Hickenlooper who saw Miller's potential off these!), and the film's trailer (much better than the actual movie). There's one deleted scene which adds no value to the film or the DVD.

All in all, there's nothing here that's entertaining, informative or even enjoyable for fans of drama, biographies or (from what I've read) fans of Edie Sedgwick. And if you weren't one before, this film won't make you one. I'm going to go watch Frida (reviewed here!) now to clean my palate.

For other works with Beth Grant, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Artist
No Country For Old Men
Southland Tales
Little Miss Sunshine
Matchstick Men
Donnie Darko
Rain Man


For other films, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page where the reviews are organized from best film to worst!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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