Valerie Solanas, prostitute and wannabe feminist revolutionary, was a bright woman with a difficult past and vague aspirations of becoming a writer. Andy Warhol was... well, Andy Warhol. These two unique personalities collided on June 3, 1968, when a nearly deranged Solanas burst into Warhol's Factory and shot the pop icon three times, nearly killing him. Opening with this notorious confronation, "I Shot Andy Warhol" turns into an artful, compelling attempt to trace the history of this troubled, multi-faceted woman. It pulls off the enviable feat of making a would-be murderer into a sympathetic heroine.Lili Taylor is excellent as Solanas, a jittery, chain-smoking urchin who demonstrates a strange mixture of hardened worldliness and doe-eyed idealism. She's tough, a proud self-described "butch dyke"--but as portrayed by Taylor, she always seems like a child among grown-ups, forever out of her depth. The author of the misandrous "SCUM Manifesto," in which she vents her hatred of men in comically bombastic prose (the morbidly curious may be interested to know that it has been posted in its entirety on several Internet sites), Solanas tries to find a patron for her writing efforts in Warhol. Tragically, even this pack of flamboyant outcasts finally rejects her, and Solanas begins her fatal descent into Travis Bickle-like alienation.
Director Mary ("American Psycho") Harron has a good eye for period detail, particularly in the wild party scenes, and she's done her research awfully well. The film sticks close to the historical record. In a few scenes she even mimics the fast-editing style of Warhol's little-seen late '60s films--a neat homage that will probably be lost on the average viewer.
The supporting cast is uniformly superb. Stephen Dorff is rather scarily convincing as the drag queen Candy Darling; Michael Imperioli captures the brusque, quick-witted charm that made Ondine one of Warhol's biggest "stars." But it's clear that our sympathies are supposed to lie with Solanas. Harron betrays some bias in her interpretation of events (we never hear that Solanas avoided serious prison time because Warhol, here portrayed as a boogeyman, refused to testify against her), but she manages to turn her heroine into something more than merely a loose cannon with a questionable cause.It's a laudable recreation of an era and a long-gone subculture, and perhaps the best epitaph that a half-mad radical feminist could hope for.