Judge Brendan Babish thinks this Factory Girl is no Norma Rae.
When Andy met Edie, life imitated art.
Director George Hickenlooper brings to the screen the life of Edie Sedgwick, a beautiful rich girl who gained a small amount of fame in the 1960s for her brief stint as a muse for pop artist Andy Warhol.
Facts of the Case
In 1965, Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Millar, Layer Cake) dropped out of her posh art school and headed to New York City. Once there, she quickly met and befriended pop-art innovator Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce, The Proposition). Though homosexual, Warhol was enraptured with Edie's looks, and began casting her in his avant-garde films. Edie not only enjoyed the fame that came with being Warhol's muse, but also the copious amount of drugs that were commonplace around the art scene.
However, things start to go bad shortly after Edie fell for a young, brooding folk singer (Hayden Christensen, Shattered Glass). This musician—who is unnamed, but clearly represents Bob Dylan—didn't dig Warhol or his work. While the two men openly resent each other, they take out their anger on Edie. Fueled by the stress of these relationships, as well as a natural predilection to hedonism, Edie's drug habit rages out of control.
It doesn't take a fortune teller to figure out that this probably isn't going to end well.
Toward the end of 2006, the fledgling Weinstein Company pushed George Hickenlooper to finish his final cut of Factory Girl. Why? They wanted to screen the film for a single weekend so that Sienna Miller's performance would qualify for a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Now as you may know, the titular Weinsteins of the Weinstein Company—brothers Bob and Harvey—are the masterminds behind Miramax Films, the independent film studio that, in a streak lasting from the early 1990s into the 21st century, had at least one movie nominated for Best Picture for ten years in a row. And now, the Weinsteins' best chance for Oscar glory is Sienna Miller in Factory Girl?
Now I like the Weinstein brothers—as anyone should who likes movies. But after watching Factory Girl their promotion of the film for award consideration seems not only desperate, but delusional. This is not to say that Miller's performance was awful. She does the best she can in a mediocre role, playing a character that simply isn't very interesting.
Edie Sedgwick seems to have had no great artistic or intellectual abilities; nor had she accomplished anything of note before dying at the age of 28. However, she was very attractive and liked to party. But this is true of dozens of uninteresting young socialites, and I have no interest in a seeing a film about Paris Hilton's formative years. I have a feeling Hickenlooper recognized at some point his film's protagonist lacked substance to support a feature film: over the end credits he defensively inserted interview clips of Sedgwick's acquaintances offering testimonials to her relevance. However, Sedgwick's brother telling us his sister really "lit up a room" doesn't assuage my doubt that she deserves her own biopic.
Strangely, it doesn't help much that the film's male leads are two of the most intriguing individuals to emerge from the 1960s. The presence of Andy Warhol and a Bob Dylan doppelganger provide interest, but also serve as constant reminders of how non-influential Sedgwick was. The early scenes with Warhol, who is brilliantly played by Pierce, overshadow the rest of the film, especially the largely Warhol-free third act.
The portrait of Dylan is not nearly as successful. Hayden Christensen does a fair job; surprisingly enough, he actually looks like Dylan, just much prettier. Unfortunately, Christensen's reedy speaking voice comes off too much like caricature, and that creates an unintended comic subtext that undermines the material. It also doesn't help that the Dylan character is so flat. His dialogue mostly consists of vague, obnoxious platitudes. In fact, if this character wasn't Dylan, he would hold no interest at all; he would just be a folk singer who's just inexplicably arrogant. There is almost nothing here that would lead one to believe this is the man who would go on to be one of the best singer/songwriters in American history.
Of course, it was Andy Warhol who famously predicted that in the future everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. And he helped this prediction bear out by providing the means for many of his acolytes—including Sedgwick—to achieve a fleeting moment of celebrity. Edie Sedgwick might have been culturally relevant during her lifetime, but watching a film about her some 35 years after her death is about as interesting as a biography of a contemporary cast member of The Real World would be in the year 2040.
Listening to Hickenlooper's commentary track, I realized how different the cut on the DVD is from the one that was released in theaters. Apparently, the Weinstein brothers put so much pressure on Hickenlooper to finish the film that he didn't even have time to watch the entire picture from beginning to end before it was screened for the Hollywood press corps. For the DVD release, he has added 10 minutes, most of which seems centered on Sedgwick. I should note that despite the inference made on the DVD cover art ("Sexy. Uncut. Unrated."), the additional 10 minutes adds little sexual content to the film (thought there the sex scene between Miller and Christensen is extant).
The DVD also includes a short featurette on the life of Edie Sedgwick. It is interesting to see pictures and film of the real Sedgwick, but it is almost maddening that whoever directed this feature chose to mimic Hickenlooper's annoying habit of using multiple film stocks and rapid cuts. In addition to a totally inconsequential deleted scene, audition footage of Sienna Miller, and a trailer, there is also Guy Pearce's video diary. While the cast members' antics are occasionally amusing, this is mostly just footage of a bunch of people goofing off.
For a relatively low-budget film, Factory Girl has a clear, sharp picture, and seems to have effectively recreated New York City in the 1960s (despite shooting much of the film in Louisiana). The sound is adequate, but it's a shame Hickenlooper didn't employ a stronger soundtrack considering the great musical output of the time period.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as I did not care for the film, it is clear from listening to Hickenlooper's commentary that Factory Girl was a labor of love for himself, Miller, and Pearce. I assume this is because of their strong interest in Warhol and the New York art scene in the 1960s. While this interest of theirs was not transferred to me, others who share it might be more receptive to the film.
In a making-of featurette Sienna Miller mentions how important it is for audiences to fall in love with Edie Sedgwick. While I agree with Miller's statement, the film entirely failed to make Sedgwick endearing. And without any interest in Edie, there's not much point in watching this movie.
Guilty of making a biopic of the wrong person. In a film with Warhol and Dylan, who cares about Edie Sedgwick?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Director's Commentary
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