Dennis is an overweight, introverted loser whose life is turned upside down when his best friend enters him as a contestant in the latest reality TV show craze called Surviving Eden. The film follows him from his humble beginnings through his rise to instant stardom and his full fifteen minutes of fame, along the way skewering the Hollywood publicity machine and especially the reality show genre that so easily creates and discards its stars.
The film is shot in the style of a mockumentary, opening with Dennis’s pre-celebrity life as a complete nobody whose only friends are his protective mother (Conchata Ferrell) and his annoying roommate, Sterno (Peter Dinklage). Fittingly, Dennis is played by virtual unknown Michael Panes, making it easy for the audience to identify with him as a new celebrity.
When the producers of the hit Survivor clone Surviving Eden receive his audition tape from Sterno, they’re instantly intrigued by the idea of casting such an unlikely contestant, especially when they learn that his submission was a prank. Dennis isn’t sure why he agrees to appear on the show, although he harbors hope of meeting a nice girl since he isn’t making any progress in his regular life. Of course he goes on to win the show and loses all of his excess weight along the way, setting up his entry into the world of instant celebrity.
The cast is rounded out with strong supporting characters including SNL alum Cheri Oteri as a manipulative, crazed contestant, legendary director John Landis as the production company’s psychologist, and Sam Robards and Jane Lynch as the slick, slimy show producers. Robards and Lynch especially play characters that couldn’t exist anywhere else but Hollywood, flaunting their coke use, a low budget economic model that maximizes profits for themselves, and engaging in heated diatribes about ridiculous topics such as the predilection of their show’s host for wearing flak jackets in every show.
The film delights in blasting the machinations of fame and wealth, such as the idiotic fashion and poses forced on Dennis for magazine photo shoots, his attempt to extend his fame via another show about his life following his win (shades of Flavor of Love), and especially the uncanny ability of Hollywood to chew up and spit out its star creations.
The film loses steam as Dennis enters the downward spiral of fame, getting so ridiculous at times that it erases much of the goodwill built up by its strong first half. Still, the concept is so ripe for satire that there are plenty of laughs throughout the film for both fans and detractors of reality shows, and it wraps up happily as Dennis’s fondest wish comes true.
Surviving Eden is in limited theatrical release. It began on NY on August 25th, followed by Chicago beginning September 1st, and Austin and LA beginning September 8th. Check the film’s website for additional locations.
Written by Caballero Oscuro