A cutesy, eager-to-please pseudo-docu about an actress poised on the verge of her 15 minutes, “Famous” might have made for an amusing short film but, at feature length, stumbles miles before the finish line. Passably interesting for a while as an examination of the thespian lifestyle from the acting p.o.v., Griffin Dunne’s small-scale indie has a trendy veneer that’s consistently undercut by the strain it shows in trying to be hip and knowing. Theatrical prospects are dim indeed, although pic should make a decent, and sufficiently name-laden, cable and video item.
The verite format has been played with ad infinitum, as has the idea of following someone’s “real” life in order to get close to the “truth.” “Famous” acknowledges its antecedents via appearances by pioneer indie writer L.M. Kit Carson, who is ID’d onscreen as “David Holzman,” after the trailblazing 1968 doculike feature “David Holzman’s Diary” he made with Jim McBride.
But after years of “American Family”-inspired takeoffs and MTV’s “The Real World” and its ilk, the idea of constantly shooting someone’s life in the hope of uncovering startling revelations and behavior seems old hat, to the extent that it would take a film either very funny or stylistically fresh to command public attention.
Unfortunately, “Famous” rates neither of these descriptions. A scripted feature in which actors portray actors struggling toward their breakthroughs while Dunne’s often-heard and occasionally viewed “documentarian” dogs their tracks, pic is altogether too conventional in its ideas and format to engage more than passing interest.
Of all the actors in all the acting schools in the world, the one selected here for extended examination is Lisa Picard (Laura Kirk), a pleasant but unremarkable young lady best known for a surprisingly racy Wheat Chex commercial. Supposedly about to emerge into the limelight due to a small part in an upcoming telepic, she makes the rounds with her best friend, Tate Kelley (Nat DeWolf), a gay activist actor-writer who is prepping a one-man show about homophobia and his coming-out traumas.
Written by the two leads, pic features loads of random incidents, the liveliest of which are encounters with real-life celebs the filmmakers were able to dragoon into service. Sandra Bullock is charmingly accommodating to Lisa when cornered wrapping a box in a postal office, Spike Lee gamely plays along with Tate’s entreaties about becoming involved in a screen version of his stage piece after a performance, and Charles Sheen and co-producer Mira Sorvino appear in a faux film-within-the-film.
Also in for some amusing direct-to-camera commentaries are, among others, Buck Henry, Carrie Fisher and Penelope Ann Miller.
But the script’s storyline per se is weak, and the film offers little new insight into the pitfalls of the acting life. Compounding the problem are the uncharismatic personalities of Kirk and DeWolf, who certainly can’t be said to be unconvincing as aspiring actors, but don’t invite the viewer under their skin either; they’re just two more young thesps on the make.
Film is shot in predictable handheld style while mixing formats here and there. At one point, Carson asks Dunne point-blank, “Why are you doing this?” — only to be told, “I don’t know.”
If he doesn’t know, then there’s no way the audience can.