July 23, 2007

Factory Girl: 15 minutes of fame in 99 minutes


Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of 5): **½

"One person in the 60s fascinated me more than any I'd known." So says artist/pop-culture icon Andy Warhol of Edie Sedgwick, the subject of this flashy, if fractured, art-biopic. While the film looks good and features a memorable turn by Sienna Miller as an eerily spot-on Sedgwick, the art student who hooked up with Warhol in New York in the 60s, the film overall is a disappointment, managing to be both colorful and yet curiously muted.

Sedgwick's bumpy past, struggles with mental illness, trauma, and drug addiction is the focus, even if the film isn't quite - focused. Even if her UK accent occasionally slips forth (which, in a way, matches her background, she came from American faux-aristocracy), Miller is the best reason to see Factory Girl. With her performance here and in the new, also uneven, film Interview, she should finally prove herself as more than just fodder for tabloids. Guy Pearce embodies Warhol's quirky fey charm, hiding behind glasses, white hair and pasty skin. "I'd love to work with her," he sighs early in the film, "I've never seen a girl with so many problems." Yet Pearce plays it so low-key at times when he's on screen the film becomes almost as somnambulant as one of Warhol's films. The film interweaves flashforwards to heartfelt Sedgwick - from a hospital - in the early 70s reflecting on the wild years in the New York art scene and her subsequent breakdown.

There's plenty of humor in Captain Mauzner's script (from a story by Mauzner, Aaron Richard Golub and Simon Monjack), capturing the absurdity of these eccentrics without deriding them. Yet it does not fully inhabit their skins. Then again, the ghostlike Warhol never fully inhabited the world he lived in, either.

Where Factory Girl goes most awry is when it introduces a Dylan-esque musician character, an underdeveloped part played by a miscast Hayden Christensen. With Warhol, the three of them form a sort of bent triangle (based in part, no doubt, by real life rumors of Dylan's connection to Sedgwick) It's understandable why the writers wanted to introduce a change-up into the story at the point he arrives - something needed to happen to add weight and drama - but the role is entirely uninteresting as written and Christensen's flat reading doesn't help matters.

The rest of the supporting cast fares a bit better, even down to Jimmy Fallon, actually fairly charming if underused in a small role as Sedgwick's odd filmmaker companion Chuck Wein, even if his character, like several others in the film, is treated as an afterthought.

Director George Hickenlooper has has had success with documentaries (a bit spottier record in features) and while he keeps things moving at a nice clip, mixing up styles at times and presenting this story in impressionistic fashion, none of this allows the film to add up to more than a wasted opportunity.

Miller's shattering, shattered performance is the main draw here; and with it, the film does at least give one an understanding of why she and Warhol fluttered towards each other, even if only for "15 minutes," why he saw her as a star, as his Marilyn Monroe. If only the film as a whole added up to something more worthy of its 99 minutes.

Note: As a poignant follow-up to watching Factory Girl, watch the disturbing Ciao Manhattan to see poor Sedgwick's final, desperate days on film.

Bit of trivia: Jack Huston, son of Tony, grandson of John, has a small part as photographer/poet Gerard Malanga.

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Posted by cphillips at July 23, 2007 8:39 AM

I'm still a bit shocked at how much I enjoyed FACTORY GIRL--due perhaps to how awful were its initial reviews. The DVD is around 13 minutes longer than the theatrically-released movie, which may account for why it seems to have more form and grace than critics let on. Director Hickenlooper says that, while it's not really the director's cut, this version does come a lot closer to what he wanted to achieve. Among the excellent supporting cast, Mena Suvari and Edward Herrmann do very nice turns, and as Craig notes, Miller and Pearce easily carry the day. Pearce, in fact, though he does not look as much like Warhol as did Jared Harris in Mary Haron's "I Shot Andy Warhol," still manages to capture well the artist's (and I use the term loosely) careless, fey, self-involved quality. I'd add half a star to Craig's rating--maybe due as much to pleasant surprise as anything else.

Posted by: James van Maanen at July 23, 2007 4:55 PM