Saturday, February 14, 2009

Henry Jaglom's "Hollywood Dreams"

I've long had a love hate relationship with Henry Jaglom's films. Last Summer in the Hamptons, Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?, Deja Vu, Baby Fever - even the train wreck A Safe Place - are all fascinating films. Also, they are conspicuously quirky, self-indulgent and too chatty for their own good. Sometimes they just don't know when to shut up and roll the credits. But, they all have something good to say about them ... I mean, as horrible as it was, it's not hard to image a film like A Safe Place having SOME redeeming moments - it does star Orson Welles and Tuesday Weld for heavens sake!

So, though I've long been a fan (and worst critic) of Jaglom, I somehow never got around to seeing his most popular film, Hollywood Dreams. Tonight we finally got around to watching it and it's easy to see why it's his most commercially successful film. It has wonderful performances - most notably Tanna Frederick, David Proval, and the always fabulous Melissa Leo. Of course, for sheer terror, there is Karen Black being Karen Black - the success of whom is dependent on the individual viewer's tolerance for an outstanding actress being thrust into the most silly roles in films each of which are more horrible than the previous one. I happen to like her (I've never forgotten her breathtaking performances in Days of the Locusts and The Great Gatsby, plus seeing her outstanding performance on Broadway in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean), so I got a kick out of watching her. There is also a very short - almost cameo - performance by Sally Strickland in her most underplayed role in years...no, in decades.

The plot, essentially threadbare tale of midwestern girl comes to L.A. to be a star and doesn't make it, gets more interesting as it goes on. Not that there is much that happens - but we learn so much about the history of this young woman - in very small bits and pieces - that we become intrigued into wanting to know more. One will either love Ms. Frederick or be annoyed beyond words by her. She's a very distinct and unique character actress. She's quirky to the extreme, and there were a few times I was so fed up with her I wanted to throw something at her. Her huge eyes, generous mouth with what must be 67 teeth, and voluminous head of red curls are all twirled, rolled, tortured into bizarre shapes and silhouettes. Sometimes it's amazing. Sometimes it's merely irritating. I do believe her absolute best moments are the first three minutes of the film (an amazing audition tour de force scene which looks to be shot in one take) and the final three minutes of the film (when we discover just how quirky this young woman is; actually we discover she's not quirky - she's stark raving bonkers).

It seemed to me that Jaglom was trying to say something about the artificiality and transitory nature of the film business and the superficiality of the people who are involved. This is hardly earth shattering news, and he was wise to concentrate primarily on his leading lady. Her leading man, Justin Kirk (Angels in America, Love!Valour!Compassion!, and Weeds) does a perfectly adequate job with his role, but when teamed with Our Lady of the Over the Top Quirkiness he never really stands out. Which is a shame because he's one terrific actor.

This is not a film to rush out and rent ... but, if you have nothing else to watch and are in the mood when you can sit through some rather chatty (and occasionally redundant) scenes, it's certainly worth the time to view it. There were moments that surprised me - and I'm sure will surprise you - and some revelations that genuinely caught me. The problem is I was never moved by them. I was never driven to laughter or tears by these sad people. They were interesting to watch, but except for a knock-your-socks-off monologue by Melissa Leo, and a truly funny scene about a high school girl directing a film for class, there is nothing that provokes emotion - only a curiosity. Which can be enough.

Oh - and one major criticism of the art direction. David Proval and his lover/business partner Zack Norman play two wealthy Hollywood agents who live in this sprawling art filled mansion...filled with 1980's lacquered department store furniture. There was nothing that suggested this set decoration was making a statement about the characters - indeed, they are presented as people of distinction and taste. I wish the set decorator had been!
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