Starry Eyes

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/16/14 11:23:43

"Does not have to sell its soul to tell its story."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 16: I am going to guess that the makers of "Starry Eyes" have not necessarily always enjoyed their time trying to make it in L.A. Sure, just by having made this movie, they have managed to get further than their characters, but it's not hard to see the inspiration for this movie: Take everything people say in jest about what it takes to succeed in Hollywood, and mean it.

As things start, Sarah Walker (Alex Essoe) is saying those things. She's pretty, young, tight-bodied, not untalented, and willing to spend almost every hour she's not working at a diner with a kind of pervy dress code in acting class to improve her craft. But just when it looks like she has failed another audition for another crappy horror movie, a casting assistant makes note of the frustration and desperation that has her pulling out her hair in the ladies' room afterward and tells her to make use of that - one way or the other.

Sarah is not alone in this, of course - she's got a roommate in roughly the same situation and other friends with similar goals - but she's the one that's going to be tested, and there's dark territory to get through before anyone comes out on the other side. How dark? Enough that when things get really crazy toward the end, the audience is ready to accept this as the logical extension of everything else that has been going on, rather than the sudden and drastic shift in genres as which it might otherwise register. It's probably still going to lose some viewers, but more for the explicit way it goes about making this shift than the shift itself.

With Sarah being at the center of all this, it's important Alex Essoe be up to the task, and she handles the part fairly well. Sarah has to be vulnerable and sympathetic for how she's exploited at the start, but she can't ever completely be the ingenue. For all that Essoe shows her character as being under stress and maybe heading for a breakdown, she also has to make sure that the audience sees Sarah's destructive decisions as her own as opposed to something she was backed or forced into. Essoe may, at times, seem a little unpolished, but she's good enough to get Sarah established as something in the audience's mind and then push and pull on whether or not that is the actual case.

The rest of the cast is capable as well, especially considering that the most recognizable is likely Pat Healy as Sarah's boss (who seems just as happy for the parade of would-be stars coming off the bus as any studio executive). Few of Sarah's friends get to particularly stand out as characters, with Fabianne Therese being the most memorable for how relatively clumsy she seems to be at cutting Sarah down while supposedly trying to be nice. It's perhaps appropriate, though, that nothing about this movie feels particularly slick or practiced, from the acting to the locations to some nasty violence toward the end; there might be a disconnect should a story about the young people Hollywood chews up and spits out be too far from its characters' capabilities.

Those capabilities aren't meager; "Starry Eyes" is at the very least memorable (even if now being able to mentally summon a sound effect for someone treating our her hair is a rather mixed blessing), and does an unusually good job of telling a story on this subject without wallowing in self-pity. Even the most bitingly satiric artists can have trouble with that, so it's good to see that filmmakers Dennis Widmyer & Kevin K´┐Żlsch are able to make their point and tell a good story at the same time.

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