||There’s a potentially good comic idea buried in Henry Jaglom’s new movie—an up-and-coming Hollywood hunk pretends to be gay to help his career. Sure, it’s basically a riff on the joke that Francis Veber already told in “The Closet,” but its transfer to the moviemaking climes of sunny southern California is clever, given the tabloid culture that’s so often speculated about supposedly heterosexual leading men actually being gay. There's also an amusing throwaway scene about an actress so inept that she's unceremoniously dismissed from a children's school film. Unfortunately those are about the only good things one can say of “Hollywood Dreams,” another clumsy Jaglom vanity project that’s as grating as fingernails on a blackboard.
The straight-pretending-to-be-gay notion, in fact, is just a minor subplot in a story that focuses instead on a thoroughly dreary character, Margie Chizek (Tanna Frederick), that no-talent would-be actress who’s understandably tossed out of her apartment by an infuriated roommate and winds up being taken in—in a twist that completely defies credulity—by gay producers Kaz and Caesar (Zack Norman and David Proval). It’s at their place that she meets pretty boy Robin Mack (Justin Kirk), who’s posed as gay to cultivate his hosts but—even more unaccountably—falls for the shrill, insecure Margie, who ultimately will have to choose between love and advancing her own career. (We’ll also learn, after the arrival of her aunt—played by Melissa Leo—on the scene, of the trauma that led to her psychological troubles.)
One could complain endlessly about the tepid, outdated stereotyping in “Hollywood Dreams,” involving not just the producer couple with their “commitment” issues but the assortment of industry types (acting coach Karen Black, bigwig honcho Seymour Cassel) that periodically show up to strut and mouth inanities. But the more fundamental reasons behind the picture’s failure are two. One is, of course, Jaglom, who over the years had learned even less about directing than Kevin Smith. He hasn’t the slightest sense of rhythm or composition, and undercuts even the few good ideas in his script with his ineptitude, which isn’t alleviated by the barely adequate work of cameraman Alan Caudillo.
The other is Frederick, a bad actress playing a bad actress, who makes a braying, obnoxious heroine it’s impossible to have the slightest sympathy for. Others in the cast may be irritating—Black, certainly, Norman and Proval (who played Richie on “The Sopranos,” and even the usually reliable Leo (only Kirk comes off at all likable)—but Frederick throws them all into the shade. Even if the script and execution were appreciably better, her presence would be fatal.
So chalk up “Hollywood Dreams” as just another picture suitable for only the most devoted Jaglom fan. For everybody else it will be more of a nightmare.