The “Factory” is Andy Warhol’s famous New York studio, and the “Girl” is Edie Sedgwick, the disaffected society daughter who became the “superstar” of the ostentatiously unconventional, publicity-seeking artist’s underground movies—with ultimately disastrous results. Basically George Hickenlooper’s film is an old-fashioned poor little rich girl story gussied up with 1960s glitter. And though the director uses some flashy technique in the early reels to camouflage the relatively threadbare nature of the production, and the cast works hard to invest the thinly-drawn characters with some depth, most of the picture is as vacuous as the milieu in which it’s set. And toward the close it degenerates into a plea for sympathy for a woman who, at least on the evidence presented here, hardly seems to have deserved much.
The film is bookended by a staged reconstruction of portions of an interview conducted with Sedgwick (Sienna Miller) in 1970, when she was undergoing treatment for drug addiction and looking back, not without some bitterness, on the past five years of her young life. The narrative then shifts back to 1965, when Edie, a student at an art school in Massachusetts, is leaving the campus—and her obviously infatuated pal Syd Pepperman (Shawn Hatosy)—for New York City with well-connected friend Chuck Wein (Jimmy Fallon). Soon both have fallen into the orbit of the wraithlike but strangely charismatic Warhol (Guy Pearce), who enlists Wein as a cameraman and Sedgwick to take a small role in one of his earliest experimental films. The camera loves her, and before long she’s become his leading lady. But her descent into drugs and the financial strictures imposed by her father Fuzzy (played by James Naughton, in a single-scene cameo, as an arrogant bastard) lead Wathol coldly to distance himself as she sinks into a self-destructive cycle.
The only other narrative wrinkle in this riches-to-rags tale—really a traditional women’s picture, though dressed in modern edginess—is a halting romance between Edie and a famous folk singer, called Billy here but presumably intended as a stand-in for Bob Dylan, and played by Hayden Christensen—a relationship which elicits a weird sort of jealousy on Warhol’s part, especially when the musician dismisses the painter with barely disguised contempt, and accelerates his decision to cut her off from his groupies.
There are some intriguing touches scattered throughout “Factory Girl.” A scene in which Warhol, played with a macabre lack of energy and real eccentricity by Pearce, takes Sedgwick to meet his adoring middle-class mother (Beth Grant) is softly compelling. The stand-off between Billy and Warhol, when Edie has brought her boyfriend to the artist’s studio for a photo shoot, has the curious air of an unequal joust. And a Parisian sequence, in which Warhol’s pointless movies are feted by the French audience, is wickedly funny—which, one hopes, was the intention.
But for the most part the movie coasts along, depending on Miller’s rather shrill performance and Pearce’s ostentatiously ethereal one, taking these characters far more seriously than they deserve. Christensen looks his part and might be able to make the singer interesting if his material were better, but as it is he can deliver little better than a generalized smudge of a performance, all poses and shrugs. And apart from Grant, Naughton, and Edward Herrmann, as the Sedgwick family lawyer, who all etch sharp personas in very brief screen time (though rather very heavy-handedly), the supporting cast isn’t terribly compelling. Technically the director and crew use different film stocks and propulsive editing, as well as scrappy camera moves, to impart energy to the proceedings, but the result seems more arbitrarily flamboyant than carefully and purposefully thought-out.
Perhaps the shallowness of “Factory Girl” accurately reflects the character of the moment in time and place it tries to recapture. But it’s still a pretty empty piece, one whose pretensions can’t conceal that it’s essentially just a traditional women’s picture—a tear-jerker, really—trying to act edgy.