Factory Girl (review)

Celebrity Interrupted

If you’re like most people, you’ve been asking yourself for several years now, “Just who the hell is Sienna Miller, why is she famous, and why must I endure the latest gossip about her?” Here she is attending a premiere! Look, she just launched her new fashion line! Listen, she and Jude Law just broke up– no, wait, they’re together again. Ostensibly, she’s an actress — this is what the publicity machine has been insisting, anyway — and Factory Girl was supposed to be her big proving ground, the film that would justify her hitherto inexplicable celebrity.
We can hope, then, that this means we’ve heard the end of the nonsense about this nonentity, because this is a flimsy ghost of a movie made even more inconsequential by the relentless blandness and unqualified insubstantiality of its “star.” Marketing may have gotten Miller (Casanova, Alfie) this far, but even if the manufacturing of a celebrity results in the momentary theft of the spotlight, eventually the moment comes when its continued glare must be earned, and Miller is unable to do that. She’s not an incompetent performer, but she does not light up the screen like you’d expect from someone of her bizarrely unwarranted reputation. Instead, she barely registers — she’s lightweight in an elemental way. Her utter lack of screen presence is the most monumental thing about her.

Miller is, in fact, exactly the opposite of what Factory Girl needed. It’d be ironic if this were the beginning of the end of Miller’s 15 minutes, because here we have the tale, if the dull and uninspiring one, of Edie Sedgwick, who was muse to Andy Warhol and the gal who held court at the center of his downtown New York art clique for a few brief years in the late 1960s. All indication of what Warhol found so rousing about Sedgwick is missing from what is, alas, a pedestrian biopic about a poor little rich girl who descended, we’re told, from rarefied heights of privilege to land in New York as an art student with stars in her naive eyes and ended up a junkie at the hands of Warhol’s mean and despicable cabal. Sedgwick’s dreams of life as an artist were laid low either by drugs and, ahem, inexplicable fame as the gal on Andy’s arm, or by her own sense of entitlement, which prevented her from doing a lick of work of her own. Either way, it’s a less than sympathetic portrait, and yet never the intriguing and ironic drama that an unflattering portrait can be, either. Director George Hickenlooper doesn’t seem to know how he feels about Sedgwick, asking us simultaneously to excuse Sedgwick as the party responsible for her own downfall while also shoveling modern psychobabble about personal responsibility onto her: the film bookends itself with Edie-in-rehab pabulum that transforms the story into one long and tedious therapy session.

The film may be a total loss for Miller, but the rest of the cast fares much better. Guy Pearce (The Proposition) scares me, he’s so intense, and here, as Andy Warhol, he’s riveting in his offhand disdain for the mundane, for the celebrity he paradoxically courts, for his own art. Hayden Christensen (Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) shines in a very small and — alas for the potential drama squandered here — undeveloped part as Bob Dylan, who, we’re led to believe, could have saved Edie from herself, if only she’d let him. Illeana Douglas (Ghost World) steals a few juicy moments as fashion designer Diana Vreeland.

But just as none of them can save Sedgwick from herself, so can none of them save Miller from her moment of truth: There’s an ineffable, essential It of charisma and spirit that comes with being an It Girl, and she hasn’t got it.

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