Lisa Picard is Famous

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 10/03/01 17:21:20

"The 'journey' isn't everything, sometimes you need to arrive."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

The “Business” is a bitch, but its siren song continues to lure people who work, train, preen, smile and schmooze their way through years of toil hoping for the break that will give them the big payoff – FAME. Lisa Picard and her best friend Tate Kelley (co-writers, Laura Kirk and Nat Dewolf) are two desperate hopefuls in New York City. Documentarian Andrew (Director Griffin Dunne – Practical Magic) is looking for an actor who he feels is on the verge of making it big and he wants to capture the transformation. “Do you walk different when you are famous? Do you look better?”, he asks. Lisa was the center of a controversy surrounding a steamy Wheat Chex cereal so Andrew figures that with a coming bit part in a made for TV movie starring Melissa Gilbert called “A Call For Help”, that Lisa will soon see the offers roll in and she will be crowned with the title of “celebrity”.

While Lisa’s star struggles to rise, the less talented Tate finds his inexplicably climb after a rave review in the New York Times for his one act play about being a gay actor and dealing with homophobia not only in the industry but in his own life. His love affair with a popular closeted soap opera actor has left him emotionally wounded and he creates the off off off Broadway piece around that. The camera follows Lisa and Tate around recording auditions, parties and encounters with famous actors and directors like Carrie Fisher, Spike Lee, Charlie Sheen and Sandra Bullock to create revealing side long glances at wanting fame, being famous and the relationship between creativity, artistry and product.

Picard doesn’t paint a sentimental portrait of the struggling underdog in an irrational and competitive business. Like a good anthropologist, the documentarian avoids becoming a part of or influencing his subjects life. But since this is actually a feature film, Andrew becomes a character in the film who eventually defies the first rule of ethnography to bring Lisa and Tate back together after a particularly bitter break up. Lisa and Tate are fond of repeating the mantra, “That’s the business” when things are going good and when things are going bad. Lisa does all the right things but she’s also philosophical. They have no illusion that there is some natural progression, some kind of career ladder you can climb. They know that simply doing the work is no guarantee of success as an actor. “Whether or not Lisa and Tate are talented is irrelevant. The fact that they love acting should be enough. They shouldn’t be doing anything else”, says Dewolf.

And Tate isn’t a very good or very professional actor. Lisa is constantly coaching him and helping him be critical of his own work. Showing up is evidently 90% of the magic because Tate is not only dim but he’s not very complex. If he were any more self-conscious, he’d be shallow but he’s too genuine, too earthy to come off as shallow. He has a naïve honesty that makes him endearing.

Lisa and Tate both look great on film. Tate practically strips to reveal a healthy body during his one act play. It’s practically the only way to get any attention. If you don’t care about what he is saying, at least you’ll look at him for an hour and half, even if just to stare at his crotch.

He is not even a great writer, he just sat down and produced something which at least put him on the field. The luck of a rave review by a sympathetic (or perhaps just pithy) critic helps get his one act optioned and then eventually turned into a straight love story by Charlie Sheen and Spike Lee. That little episode says volumes about the business of entertainment. Andrew challenges the integrity of the feature by reminding Tate that the story doesn’t have any girls in it at all. It’s about two guys. But Andrew has already been convinced of the wisdom of allowing it to become more commercial and he defends Spike Lee and Charlie Sheen’s (the characters, played by the actors of the same name – its all very confusing where the “celebrity” persona ends and the “person” begins.) choice by saying that its really about two people. The black and white footage of the film version stars Mira Sorvino in her one appearance in this film that she produced with Dolly Hall.

The scenes of Carrie Fisher and her dog are the most poignant commentary on becoming famous. The child of famous actors, Fisher says she was depressed when she became famous because she knew from watching her parents, that her fame would someday end.

It will be impossible for Carrie Fisher to stop being famous almost as much as it will be impossible for her to stop being Princess Leia. Harrison Ford has managed to avoid that trap somehow. Fisher finds most of her work behind the scenes as a script doctor. So she still works in “the business” but you don’t see her in any starring roles. I don’t think she’s been in anything since Drop Dead Fred, barring her cameo scene in the recent Kevin Smith film, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Mira Sorvino sums up the film by saying, “Yes, Lisa Picard Is “Famous” is about actors. But I think its also about everybody that has goals and dreams and pins all of their hopes for happiness and fulfillment on those goals.” Well, yes, that’s why anyone pursues their dreams in the first place.

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