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Movie Review: Hollywood Dreams

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For a variety of reasons, it’s tough to make a movie about making movies. Works like The Player and Entourage have been successful by simultaneously poking fun at Hollywood and, in the latter case, embracing the myths it builds around itself. Considering the affection people have for movies, and the lengths people will go to to get into the business, you’d think it would be prime territory for stories. But films about making films frequently feel self-indulgent and too inside.

Hollywood Dreams suffers from a lot of those issues, but the bigger problem is its lack of focus and rather implausible narrative. The film centers on Margie (Tanna Frederick), an aspiring actress who will do anything to make it in the business. The film’s first chunk chronicles a series of increasingly embarrassing episodes in her life, opening with a grainy audition video, in which she breaks down and cries for the first of many times in the film. She goes on to eat and then spit out Mallomars, gets kicked out of her house, and in a particularly pathetic scene, wanders into, then gets fired from, a film a group of middle schoolers are shooting.

Throughout the film, but in this part in particular, it’s unclear how we’re meant to feel about Margie. There are certainly some elements of satire in her total commitment to her work, above any sort of personal concern. But the film at times goes so broad with its cruelty that it’s hard to buy her as a human being. By having us laugh at her at the start of the film, it becomes tough to shift to the pathos they were going for in the latter half. The character is so grating, it’s hard to spend 100 minutes with her. I wouldn’t want to meet someone like David Brent or Tony Soprano in real life, but they’re fascinating to watch on screen. Margie is just annoying.

In retrospect, the film’s opening is rather misleading. The bulk of the film involves Margie’s stay at the house two wealthy gay film producers, Kaz (Zack Norman) and Caesar (David Proval). She winds up there when she randomly meets Kaz on the street, a plot point that’s so lazy I spent a good chunk of the film waiting for the twist, to find out that he was really evil or using her in some way. But, that never comes and in reality it’s just lazy writing that the character should get everything she wants handed to her.

We shift from the story of this struggling actress on the streets to a woman with some power hoping to find a balance between personal happiness and professional success. The bulk of the film finds all the characters struggling with this issue, and it provides some good material. Margie’s counterpart is Robin (Justin Kirk), an actor who uses his ambiguous sexuality to help get roles. In each case, the characters must play a character in real life to help them get the part in films. That’s the core of the film, the idea that everyone in Hollywood is lying all the time to get ahead.

However, the film’s somewhat haphazard narrative structure deprives it of any real momentum. After Margie’s initial journey through the street, almost every scene takes place at the mansion. We never get any context for the kind of success that Robin has. A journalist asks him why he’s so mysterious, implying that he’s been successful enough to rouse public opinion, however we never know what level of success he’s had, and that makes it tough to understand the way he deals with Margie. The film deals entirely in theoretical fame, we never see anyone actually achieve anything, except for one thing at the end, and in that case it’s another deus ex machina.

Much of the film is based on the characters becoming enamored of Margie and trying to help her get ahead, yet she’s such an annoying person, it’s hard to believe. There’s some justification within the film for all the actions, but it just rings false. The film would work if she was so charismatic and beautiful that people just couldn’t resist her, and as a result are willing to put up with her eccentricity, but that’s not the case.

The film is clearly built with actors in mind, with lengthy scenes that frequently include monologues and/or hysterical crying outbursts. This means that the film is somewhat episodic, with some moments working better than others. The best scenes are the moments of raw, real emotion, such as the devastating scene in which Margie breaks down while talking to her aunt, or the moment when we find out what’s really up with her brother. While I had some issues at the time, the first chunk of the film is very effective at reaching that uncomfortable comedy place of works like The Office or more specifically the HBO series, The Comeback.

Ultimately, the film doesn’t do enough good to justify its own existence. The aforementioned Comeback hits this same material, as does the far superior Ellie Parker. That film not only had a better script, it had an incredible lead performance from Naomi Watts. Tanna Frederick isn’t bad, but the script requires her to have far too many freakouts and crying jags. Director Henry Jaglom never finds a consistent balance between the more outré comedy elements and the real emotion. While there are some strong moments, the whole never quite pulls together.

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