Factory Girl (2006) (part 1 of 10)
“Factory Girl‘s greatest crime is transforming a scene and a personality that were all about movement and flamboyant brilliance into nothing but inert ventriloquism.”
—Melissa Anderson, Time Out New York
“Edie Sedgwick’s story is sad, but never appears important or interesting.”
—Peter Bradshaw, Guardian
“This is juicy stuff, but the filmmakers have absolutely no idea what to do with it.”
—Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A spectacle of bad accidents, VH1 aesthetics, sketchy (almost nonexistent) period detail, and armchair psychology.”
—Ed Gonzales, Slant Magazine
“According to anyone you care to ask, Factory Girl has been cut and recut a couple of times and may not even be the movie that filmmaker George Hickenlooper intended to make. This sounds reasonable, as nobody sets out to make a movie this banal.”
—Liz Braun, Jam! Movies
You don’t need me to tell you that this is not a good film. Plenty of people have said it, though I think Lou Reed said it best and most credibly:
Being an avid fan of Warhol, Dylan, and 1960s culture in general, I looked forward to Factory Girl for over a year before its release, even after reading quotes like these, even after Bob Dylan threatened to sue (leading to his character’s rechristening as “The Musician”), and even after the searing critical reviews began to pour in. The fact is, sometimes my interest in a topic is enough to override the part of my brain that really should know better.
By the time Factory Girl was released on DVD, and the scathing reviews were numbering in the hundreds, my expectations were rock-bottom low. But still, I was determined to enjoy it. After all, even if the script was crap, how could watching Guy Pearce flounce around as Warhol for two hours be a bad thing?
And even if Factory Girl was really all that terrible, how could it be less than fun to watch? After all, it’s about the New York art scene of the 1960s. At worst, we should be guaranteed lots of drug use, melodrama, and celebrity cameos. And a good soundtrack. A lot like a modern exploitation flick, if you will. How bad could it be?
The day Factory Girl came out, I went to my local Blockbuster (this film being a Blockbuster Exclusive! And also, the nicest thing they ever did for Netflix subscribers) and went straight home to watch it.
Ninety minutes later, my rhetorical question had been answered: Factory Girl is dull. Deadly, deadly dull. And sanctimonious. And pretentious. And dull. Director George Hickenlooper has accomplished a Caligulan feat in taking a story packed with debauchery and hysterical angst, and transforming it into a crushing ordeal that overstays its welcome almost immediately. Despite having anticipated this film for quite a while, I felt my attention wandering before the four-minute mark—but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The film opens innocuously enough, with a quotation from Andy Warhol on our protagonist-to-be Edie Sedgwick. Then comes the very first shot, which prefigures the bizarre, film-school pretensions of the movie as a whole: Edie (here played by famed Jude Law dater Sienna Miller), filmed in grainy, high-contrast black and white, stares intently into the camera while, in voiceover, she explains the Kennedy-esque background of her family.
Sienna Miller’s performance here, as in all of her voiceovers throughout the film, is heavily mannered, and peppered with ironic chuckles and meaningful pauses to the point of absurdity, almost as if she’s trying to transmute her excruciatingly forgettable dialogue into something worthwhile through sheer effort.
There are fast-motion shots of Edie, wearing more eye shadow than Brian Molko, running like crazy down a New York street. There’s another shot of Edie, who continues to narrate directly into the camera. For anyone who cares, I should mention that this is rehab Edie, post-all-of-the-events-of-this-film Edie. This is with-the-benefit-of-hindsight Edie, whom the film would have you believe has grown wiser and more insightful.
Rehab Edie moves into the next section of her monologue, and it’s just like something out of Hunter S. Thompson:
My, what an unsettling commentary on dysfunctional American families. On the surface, they look normal! Wow!
Cut to our youngest-yet-encountered Edie, college student Edie, who’s discussing the current state of the nation with her boyfriend in an otherwise vacant arts classroom at Harvard. I’ll spare you the specifics, but this would be as good a time as any to introduce a prominent aspect of Factory Girl‘s setting. The film doesn’t take place in the 1960s; it takes place in THE 1960S!!! Meaning, every single newspaper is plastered with headlines about Vietnam, every single conversation references Jackson Pollock or Lyndon B. Johnson, and it’s impossible to flee from the wheelbarrow-loads of dime store period detail that George Hickenlooper brings into the film. If the movie were set in THE 2000S!!!, it would probably open on Edie listening to Fall Out Boy on her iPod while reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and then being interrupted by an announcement about the Iraq War by U.S. President George W. Bush.
Edie’s boyfriend provides some horrifically obvious exposition about Edie going to New York City to pursue her artistic ambitions. “Why won’t you come?” asks Edie, to which her boyfriend replies, “Because my folks would kill me… Where I come from, it’s not easy to get a scholarship.” What, you mean the two of them haven’t discussed this already? They waited until five minutes before Edie shoves off for NY to start ironing out the details?
Just as Edie’s leaving, her boyfriend snaps a photo of her which, given that she’s currently a caricature of naïveté and idealism (“There’s always hope!”), is absolutely guaranteed to make a reappearance at the film’s conclusion in order to allow us to compare and contrast.
Dissolve to Edie and her friend Chuck, played by Jimmy Fallon, a “flamboyant socialite who carried a [ironic chuckle] pocketful of calling cards.” Incidentally, Chuck here looks about as flamboyant as an insomniac stockbroker.
The two of them are walking down Main Street in Shreveport, Louisiana. I’m sorry, I mean, 1960s Manhattan. You know how easy it is to get those two confused. Or at least, this movie hopes that it’s easy to get those two confused.
Rehab Edie’s voiceover ironically chuckles and significantly pauses its way through the next few minutes, spelling out how naïve and idealistic she was at this point in her life. This is presumably for the benefit of the mentally disabled in the audience, the only people who could have possibly not gotten this yet.
Edie and Chuck play a word association game, and we conclude with a shot of a phone booth containing a few pieces of 1960S!!! memorabilia: An ad for a Ginsberg poetry recital, a few tiny Warhol prints (foreshadowing!), and so on. And, let me just say, this is far and away the cleanest phone booth I’ve ever seen.
Cut to a church, where our villain, the nefarious Andy Warhol, is giving confession. Guy Pearce plays Warhol with enthusiasm, if not nuance, and is probably the closest-to-good thing to be found in this mess. He goes on for a while about stereotypical Andy Warhol stuff: Norman Mailer punched his “fah-bulous”-ly-dressed friend in the stomach for wearing a pink coat… which makes him jealous, because Mailer never punched him in the stomach.
One thing that should be noted is that, although Warhol was notoriously pallid and pimply, here he looks as if he’s been sculpted out of old toothpaste. So whereas the real Warhol had a deadpan, slightly limp manner, Pearce’s appearance is more evocative of the undead.
Warhol says he feels “something’s always missing.” A vapid, unremarkable socialite, perhaps? I don’t know why it didn’t occur to him sooner!