In the best moments of “Stardom,” seasoned Canuck helmer Denys Arcand pulls out his trademark barbed wit to skewer the sillier side of today’s media-obsessed culture. But pic, which charts the rise and fall of a gorgeous young supermodel, lacks the intimacy and personal insight that gave such depth and punch to earlier Arcand works like “The Decline of the American Empire” and “Jesus of Montreal.” Arcand innovates on the formal front by shooting virtually the entire film as if through the cameras of various TV shows. This neat twist, however, makes it hard for the pic to dive beneath the surface to explore the characters in any depth. The irony is that this film about the superficiality of celebrity-crazed Western society is itself somewhat superficial.
With its mid-Atlantic feel — with scenes in Montreal, New York and Paris, and dialogue in English and French — pic will probably appeal to Euro auds familiar with Arcand, but it will be a more problematic sell in North America. While offbeat, it is in many ways a more commercial film than helmer’s previous titles. The humor, glitzy settings and too-gorgeous teen lead thesp Jessica Pare should spark some U.S. interest.
Pic establishes its Canadian credentials in opening shot of a barren snowy field and reinforces Great White North atmosphere by segueing to the hockey rink , where Tina Menzhal (Pare) is playing for a women’s team in the small Ontario town of Cornwall. Someone snaps a pic of the sultry left-winger looking over her shoulder and, soon enough, the snapshot of the sexy athlete is the talk of the fashion world in Canada.
First of a number of ill-fated relationships kicks off when Tina meets ambitious French photographer Philippe Gascon (Charles Berling), who starts by shooting her and quickly falls for her. One of the funnier early scenes has a Quebec talkshow host (Patrick Huard) pulling a stunned Tina out of the audience at a live TV taping and breaking the news to the world that she’s involved with Gascon. It inaugurates a running gag throughout the film in which Tina can rarely get a word in edgewise when being interviewed by the media.
She then hooks up with Barry Levine (Dan Aykroyd), an aggressive restaurateur who runs celeb-focused Planet Hollywood-type eateries, and they become a rather unlikely couple. At the same time, she is trying to work her way up the fashion hierarchy, which involves heading to Paris to try to beg her way into appearing in major shows.
She is also being trailed by a pretentious fashion photog, Bruce Taylor (Robert Lepage), who is making a documentary on Tina and shooting nearly everything she does.
New York-based uber-agent Renny Ohayon (Thomas Gibson), repping the slimier side of American showbiz, signs her up. Levine eventually cracks up as Tina becomes much more successful than he is, and, on the rebound from him, she marries the much older Blaine de Castillon (Frank Langella), the Canadian ambassador to the United Nations.
It’s near-impossible to figure out why Tina falls for these two fairly unappealing older guys. The formal device of shooting everything in the form of a TV report, while a novel way of depicting the media culture, serves to limit the material, because we never see anything except the public face of these couples.
Arcand adds a bit of behind-the-scenes information and flavor thanks to Taylor’s black-and-white docu footage, which at least shows Tina in a more vulnerable and personal light. But impact is muted by the lack of moments where the characters can interact in a more free-form way, away from the TV lights and cameras.
This is not a look at the fashion biz. Its satire of the all-encompassing TV eye actually makes it more of a companion piece to “The Truman Show” or “edTV” than an update of Robert Altman’s “Ready to Wear.”
The highlights are when screenwriters Arcand and Jacob Potashnik go for the broad comic strokes. The parody of a pretentious Parisian chat show is dead-on and genuinely hilarious, and a segment in which an unhinged de Castillon jumps up on the floor of the U.N. and starts ranting is equally funny.
Eighteen-year-old Pare, who has no significant bigscreen experience, does reasonably well in the lead role because the part demands someone who looks like she hasn’t spent her life in front of a camera. In the early section, the young thesp simply looks beautiful and a little awkward, which works fine, and, with her striking blue eyes and head-turning features, she lights up the screen.
But she doesn’t fare as well when required to dig a little deeper emotionally. It doesn’t help that there is little onscreen chemistry between Pare and Aykroyd or Langella, neither of whom is particularly distinguished here. Gibson is more of a presence, and, in sharp contrast to his mild-mannered role in hit sitcom “Dharma & Greg,” he oozes tough sleaziness and is pretty convincing.
Canadian film and theater helmer Lepage, who also appeared in Arcand’s “Jesus of Montreal,” plays filmmaker Taylor as a goofy but likable fellow, while the script doesn’t give Berling much room to breathe as Gascon.
Arcand and his longtime d.p., Guy Dufaux, have done a good job of mimicking the look and feel of a number of styles of TV shows, aping “Entertainment Tonight,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The Jerry Springer Show,” newscasts and low-fi cable-access shows. For the most part, pic is shot using natural light to re-create the off-the-cuff visuals of news TV, and Arcand and Dufaux make sure the viewer never forgets the presence of camera crews, without making it an irritant. Soundtrack is powered mainly by rock tunes.