Poor Little Factory Girl; Plus Spies Like Us & Bourgie Fantasies
By Fernando F. Croce

The tale of a poor little rich girl offering herself as a pop icon before being tossed like used tissue -- how did the Edie Sedgwick biopic elude the clutches of Mary Harron? Harron must have felt she already disgraced this territory enough with I Shot Andy Warhol, or maybe she was busy doing research for some version of the Anna Nicole Smith saga; either way, jejune reductivism falls to George Hickenlooper, who directs the mimicking stand-ins and period details of Factory Girl with far less insight than the flattest of E! True Hollywood Story segments. Who was Edie (Sienna Miller), the petite cyclone who ditched her aristocratic clan for the euphoric dangers of '60s Manhattan and the transgression of The Factory, where Warhol (Guy Pearce) reigned supreme? In this torpid telling, she's a bohemian flibbertigibbet and attention-vacuum losing herself in the "perpetual party" menagerie of poseur-genius Warhol, whom she (or the dreadful screenplay, anyway) dubs "a little boy who needed to be taken care of," even as the picture prefers to project him like a horror-movie villain. Pearce's pasty Warhol is such a derisive bundle of pouting that the movie can't even bring itself to his defense when Edie's abusive father calls him a "full-blown queer;" that passively-aggressively defiant mix of put-on artist and sublime trailblazer is flattened into the epicene Yin to the manly Yang of "The Musician" (a coy Bob Dylan cartoon via Hayden Christensen, doing James Franco doing James Dean). Mock-Dylan taps Edie's superstar bosom and tells her she's as empty as her Svengali's Campbell's Soup Cans -- I could swear Red Buttons said the same thing to Carroll Baker in Harlow.

Hickenlooper may insist on bouncing Edie Sedgwick between those poles of Sixties experimentalism, but Factory Girl's structure is more basic: the sputter-fervidly-die-glamorously arc favored by young starlets, namely. Miller works herself avidly into a whirlwind of fake eyelashes and breathless sniffles to suggest petulance accelerating into anxiety, yet all her flea-hopping "spontaneity" misses the petulant languor and the offhand enchantment of the pixie-debutante who moved from the edges of Vinyl to center stage in Beauty #2, transformed and transforming under the Warhol gaze. As for the film's re-creations of these masterworks, rarely have I seen radical work staged so pallidly -- the behind-the-scenes glimpses of Beauty #2 posit a facile quasi-rape scenario not worth a second of that film's notion of Edie's revolt against the controlling male voice, and, to add insult to the injury, that voice here is revealed to belong to Jimmy fucking Fallon. (Hickenlooper's idea of a fresh image is to put the camera behind Warhol's great silver shag to obscure the audience's view of the heroine at an art gallery.) It's reportedly been a long, compromised road for the picture, re-cut and re-scheduled to fit the Weinsteins' Oscar hunger, with tinkering especially noticeable as the already clunky narrative takes a detour for a plain (Hollywood "plain," of course) Miller to face the lenses while Edie tries flushing out the drugs at a 1970 Santa Barbara clinic before the title card brings news of her untimely demise. "It's easier to remain detached," Warhol deadpans to a reporter; a more famous dictum expounded the quarter-hour of fame everybody will savor, but this film's wan Edie Sedgwick barely merits five minutes.

*

Moving from the narcissistic extroverts of Factory Girl to the shrinking bureaucrats of Breach might have been a bigger contrast had the two pictures not found common ground in unilluminating mediocrity. The real-life question mark at the center here is Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), the veteran FBI agent infamously unmasked in 2001 as a traitor who had sold agency secrets to U.S. enemies for at least two decades. Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe), a rookie trained as an analyst, is planted in Hanssen's orbit to expose the weathered turncoat; their relationship, based on hostility, near-admiration and betrayal, lends the movie its spine and Billy Ray, the director, another journalistic pas de deux founded on poker-game bluffing. Hanssen, dourly conservative, dedicated churchgoer, and "sexual deviant," is no less an enigma than disgraced New Republic fabulist Stephen Glass in Ray's earlier Shattering Glass, and Cooper plays him with fierce bitterness; also like the earlier work, Breach could be read interestingly for corporate disfigurement of American ambition, or as tragicomedy of family dysfunction building toward the ritualistic overthrow of the Father (Laura Linney's steely Kate Burroughs stands for the Mother). Clearly, Ray is a thematic auteur, and, unfortunately, a stylistic one as well -- the blocky filmmaking and saltine-cracker mise en scène of Shattering Glass have been carried over, a dull palette dictated mainly by office wall designs (it takes authentic strain to make Tak Fujimoto's photography look blah) that muffles suspense and dilutes tension without turning into a distanced approach. Ray respects viewers by refusing to explain Hanssen, yet by not digging deeper he misses the ironies in Cooper's portrait of souring paranoia and faith.

*

The based-on-true-events trail ends with Breaking and Entering -- Anthony Minghella maintains that he's founded his screenplay on real life, but his study of class and (gah!) interconnectedness in London's King's Cross district is one-hundred percent uncut bourgeois fantasy, possibly shot after a brush with a panhandler and a Michael Haneke retrospective. The tone is set early, successful landscape developer Jude Law looking at half-Swedish live-in Robin Wright Penn with a soulfully vague kind of dissatisfaction, "there's a distance between you" in voiceover. (More from Minghella the playwright: "Before you repair a window you should smash some more ... Which one of us is lying to ourselves the most ... Mothers will do anything to protect their children.") Law follows the acrobatic teen hood (Rafi Gabron) who twice broke into his studio, only to end up seducing his mother (Juliette Binoche), a Sarajevo widow prone to tear-oozing in the Binoche tradition. The dead fish from The Courtship of Eddie's Father makes an appearance to establish the mental fragility of the gymnast daughter (Poppy Rogers), Binoche hums a few Bach bars over a silent keyboard; every other scene begins or ends with a blurry image coming into focus, maybe the director's veiled confession of the fuzzy vision in his entry into the Crash-The Architect moneyed-Aryan guilt sweepstakes. Ray Winstone (despite being forced to spell out the themes for the clods in the audience) and Vera Farmiga (Cate Blanchetting through as a husky-voiced whore) goose things up, though Breaking and Entering ultimately only shows that Minghella's antiseptic touch can now turn things to butter on an intimate scale as well as on an epic one.


Reviewed February 23, 2007.

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