The wild, unhinged life of Andy Warhol’s favorite “superstar,” Edie Sedgwick, is refashioned in “Factory Girl” as a tame biopic with little feel for the 1960s New York Underground. Though Sedgwick embodied everything that glittered and grated about the era’s counterculture, director George Hickenlooper evinces no deep interest in the time and place, resulting in a film that feels removed from its source. With last-minute reshoots and editing, the pic feels rushed, and it will have a hard time registering with target auds until impending vid release.
A 1970 interview session between Edie (Sienna Miller) and a therapist frames the narrative and provides a device (via both voiceover and cutaways) to try to articulate Edie’s thoughts and motivations as she splits from Boston art school for Gotham’s bright lights in 1965. Early Boston scenes with pal Syd Pepperman (Shawn Hatosy) portray her as a sweet gal, when in fact she was already known as a wild child of extreme wealth.
Accompanied by friend Chuck Wein (Jimmy Fallon), Edie is suddenly a more mod version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” Holly Golightly, and her arranged meeting with Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce) works like a charm. Andy, viewed as a neurotic artist and practicing Polish-American Catholic who wonders if Picasso knows who he is, seems smitten with Edie’s easygoing manner and deep-pocket connections.
The early scenes in the sprawling Factory, Andy’s downtown, hyperactive studio, feel authentic, with Edie’s involvement in Andy’s absurdist mock-Western film, “Horse,” especially effective. But screenwriter Captain Mauzner (who also penned the similarly problematic biopic, “Wonderland”) fails to scratch beneath the surface of the Factory’s facade.
What should be an intoxicating journey through radical pop America becomes entangled in a repetitive pattern of scenes illustrating Edie’s and Andy’s friendship, drug indulgences and financial tussles. While Warhol clearly uses his wiles to take emotional advantage of Edie, there’s no insight into how he felt while he was doing it.
Coming between the two is a singer-songwriter (Hayden Christensen) identified in credits as “Musician,” who seduces Edie with devil-may-care charm. With his rebellious political profile, puffed-up hair and nasally voice, the character certainly evokes Bob Dylan, with whom Edie never had a documented affair. (Dylan had threatened to sue the filmmakers over the depiction.)
As final graphics note, Sedgwick died of a drug overdose in her Santa Barbara hometown a year after she left therapy.
In Miller’s hands, Edie is a pure victim, but ultimately too whiny and narrowly focused to be a genuinely tragic figure. Without facially resembling Warhol (as Jared Harris did in the superior “I Shot Andy Warhol”), Pearce is exact in both vocal delivery and physical movement.
Filmic use of color and black-and-white, plus pallid re-creations of certain Warhol pics (including several of his “Screen Tests”), has fewer ties to Warhol cinema than to the multiformat work of cinematographer Robert Richardson. Absence of any reference to Sedgwick’s only commercial starring film, “Ciao! Manhattan,” is strange.