Tag Archives: C

STARDOM

C+

Denys Arcand, the French Canadian auteur of “The Decline of the American Empire” (1986), “Jesus of Montreal” (1989) and “Love and Human Remains” (1993), employs a clever, if sometimes irritatingly affected, technique to tell the story of a small-town Canadian beauty who becomes a world-class supermodel in “Stardom”; but ultimately his movie proves as superficial as its subject-matter. It’s also way too long: a picture about Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame (its original title) can’t really be sustained for more than 100 minutes, even under the guidance of a dexterous filmmaker.

Arcand’s conceit is to narrate the rise of Tina Menzhal (Jessica Pare), a young woman first glimpsed as a hockey player, of all things, to the height of international celebrity, almost entirely through bits of phony “documentary” footage–snippets of TV news reports, talk shows, interview sessions, and (to fill in the gaps), excerpts from a film being made by a famous photographer who follows the gal around and, as a friend, is allowed to record even her most intimate moments. (Inevitably, there are a few points at which the director-writer is compelled to diverge from this approach–at the very end of the picture, for instance.) The satirical point, of course, is that the unfortunate woman’s life becomes nothing more than the creation of the media, and that she doesn’t really exist beyond the eye of cameras and the attention of obsessive fans and frantic commentators. The emptiness of modern “celebrity” is thus handily depicted, and for a while the jumpy, segmented narrative technique seems appropriate and generates some good laughs.

The problem is that Arcand’s targets are so broad and obvious that, as his picture drones on for nearly two hours, it becomes hard to admire the result even when he scores a bull’s-eye. During the first sixty minutes of so, there’s a fairly plentiful assortment of amusing lines, many emphasizing the fatuous ramblings of television pundits. Some of the characters, moreover, are generally intriguing, as one-dimensional as they might be: Charles Berling is seedily funny as the “artist” who discovers Tina, and Thomas Gibson hilariously controlled as the big-time agent who becomes her manager and handles every conceivable crisis in deadpan fashion.

But as the picture moves into the latter stages of Menzhal’s career it loses its way, growing increasingly serious and strident until it practically abandons its satiric edge to become very like a mediocre Lifetime telefilm. A sequence in which the woman is forced to confront the father who’d abandoned her on a smarmy TV program is embarrassing for the audience as well as the performers, and the melodramatic exertions involved in Tina’s two main romantic liaisons (the first with Dan Aykroyd, as an ambitious restaurateur, and the second with Frank Langella, who chews up the scenery with customary relish as a Canadian U.N. ambassador) prove too strenuous to succeed as farce.

On the credit side, Pare, looking on occasion like a younger version of Geena Davis, is sufficiently lovely to persuade us of her success in the fashion world, and she does occasionally manage to strike a poignant pose. And Aykroyd, apart from a final courtroom scene in which he’s forced to go overboard, gives a shrewd, shaded performance.

But ultimately “Stardom” doesn’t say much about the vacuous nature of modern celebrity that we didn’t already know, and over the course of its running-time the manner in which it offers its message grows increasingly thin. After all, even a genius like Orson Welles employed the newsreel device only for the first ten minutes of “Citizen Kane.” And Arcand, for all his ability, is no Welles.

AROOM FOR ROMEO BRASS

C

In his second feature following the gritty boxing-club drama “TwentyFourSeven” (1998), writer-director Shane Meadows once again captures the atmosphere of lower-middle-class British life, this time focusing on the friendship of two 12-year old boys in a Nottingham neighborhood and the impact of familial problems, illness, and a strange interloper on their relationship. But while “TwentyFourSeven” maintained a central core of believability even at its most mawkish moments, “A Room for Romeo Brass,” despite its effective surface, grows increasingly incredible as it unfolds.

We’re first introduced to Romeo (Andrew Shim), a youth who’s estranged from his father, and Gavin (Ben Marshall), a kid who’s facing surgery to correct a spinal problem, as they unaffectedly walk about their turf. Before long, however, they get involved with a local eccentric named Morrell (Paddy Considine), who rescues them from a beating at the hands of some soccer toughs. Before long he’s not only become their oddball chum, encouraging them to skip school to hang out for instance, but also gets romantically fixated on Romeo’s sister even though he’s obviously hopeless with women. Morrell’s obsession, and his increasingly apparent mental instability, come between the boys: Romeo remains tied to him largely as an alternative to the father he detests, to the extent that he esssentially comes to shun Gavin, whom Morrell threatens for making fun of him and who must in any event recuperate for some time after his operation. As the plot progresses it grows more and more evident that Morrell is a threat not only to the youths but to the other members of their families as well.

The peculiarity of “A Room for Romeo Brass” lies in the fact that it begins as a charming juvenile buddy-picture but soon turns into a portrait of a wild and unpredictable man. Considine makes Morrell initially fascinating, and his sudden transformation from weird friend to potential menace is beautifully captured in a scene in which he abruptly turns on the terrified Gavin. But once this has happened, less than halfway into the picture, the only remaining question is how far Morrell will go, and whatever suspense is generated derives from the rather unsavory issue of whether either or both of the boys will be seriously injured. There’s also a basic matter of plausibility at work here: long before the tale reaches a climax, it’s become abundantly clear that Morrell is a dangerous psychotic, yet even after he physically attacks Gavin’s home, nobody thinks to call the police, preferring to address the matter themselves (rather ineffectually, one might add). (The penultimate sequence, in fact, is oddly reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs.”) Since the story closes with a curious sequence involving a magic show, it might have been Meadows’ intention to cast the narrative as a sort of modern fairy-tale, a gritty updating of “Three Little Pigs,” for example, with the wacko wolf literally banging at the door before being disposed of with the snap of a finger (or the crack of a bone). But that doesn’t make the picture work any better within the naturalistic environment the director has been at such pains to create.

Still, there are compensations. If Shim registers only sporadically as the emotionally opaque Romeo, Marshall is quite touching as his buddy, and the various members of their families are nicely limned by the supporting performers. Considine, though he goes way overboard in the closing half-hour (a scene in which he accosts Romeo in warrior guise is almost comic in its exaggeration, which doesn’t seem the intention), makes for an interesting villain, dopily sympathetic at the start and deeply malevolent by the close. Bob Hoskins turns up briefly as the tutor who visits Gavin as he recuperates; he’s so restrained that he almost disappears into the scenery.

“A Room for Romeo Brass” is of interest for its atmosphere, which catches the milieu of lower-class British life in much the same way as the works of Loach or Leigh do, and for isolated moments of insight and power. But it fails to cohere as a whole, fizzling emotionally even as it grows more and more melodramatically preposterous before wrapping things up in a conclusion as pat and cheery as that of any Hollywood product.