As Andy Warhol’s quote about everyone being famous for fifteen minutes proves ever more prophetic, media satirists are faced with a conundrum: How do you satirize something that teeters so closely to self-parody ? The (sur)reality of media-driven celebrity, a multi-lensed beast that can gloss worldwide fame onto virtually anyone and then trash them with nary a thought, almost makes mockery of the subject redundant; in the era of O.J. and Lewinsky, it’s nigh impossible to outdo the spectacle set before us on millions of TV screens every night.
The idea of turning the tools of the info-tainment era against itself is nothing new, but credit director Denys Arcand (Jesus of Montreal) for fashioning those weapons into elements of self-reflexive farce. The strength of his new film, Stardom, lies in its telling of how a Montreal native (Jessica Pare) is embraced by the media, nurtured into supermodel fashion celebrity, and later discarded, like another burned out flashbulb. Exposition about Tina’s rise and fall is accomplished solely through the pulpits of the modern age: TV "news" celebrity profiles, talk shows, modeling runway commentators, soundbites and faux-documentary footage from an omnipresent Bruce Weber caricature (James Lepage) dole out elliptical tidbits of information with little insight. Mirroring the 20th century here-today-gone-today form of instantly digestible communication, Arcand transforms Tina’s rise and fall into just another blip on the exploited youth/beauty radar, a whirlwind tour of diverting bells and whistles for a ravenous public. The masses of voyeurs become de facto participants as her private moments, romantic endeavors (both Frank Langella and a surprisingly good Dan Akroyd play seduced suitors) and not-so private breakdowns are only a satellite transmission and remote control away…at least until the next pretty face rounds the corner.
Impeccable in its satirical form, Stardom doesn’t always maintain a consistent level of quality in its content, the satire running to the obvious. The people orbiting around Tina’s bright star are meant to be one-dimensional and superficial, but that doesn’t require the performances to be limited to caricature mugging. Some of the characters seem to fulfill the function of loosely impersonating well-known media figures (Weber, Charlie Rose, Oprah) but do little else than serve as visual gags. Some of the jabs at showbiz insincerity become so arch that one can practically see characters forming imaginary quotation marks with their fingers and winking at the camera. The trap of catching an obvious target in the crosshairs is falling back on the same tropes and cliches that more rapier-like wits have used to better effect. Arcand may be a fine cinematic ironist and farceur, but he’s no Renoir and Stardom is not the grand comment on man’s folly (viz.: Rules of the Game) that it might have been. There are moments in the film when a touch of restraint would have worked wonders with already over-the-top material.
Thanks to the filmmaker’s deft touch in manipulating the familiar forms of pre-processed communication, however, Stardom’s deadpan stare into the glare of celebrity works more often than not. Its portrait of the media training its cameras to act as a hall of mirrors, reflecting social desire through the prism of a photogenic face, benefits from the grace of Arcand’s guiding hand, imbuing a one-joke premise with grace and depth.
The ultimate irony of it all may be that Pare, a talented and comely newcomer, has already received a great deal of attention for her role in the film. It shouldn’t be long before life imitates art and websites, archived photo shoots, TV profile transcripts and late night talk show interview footage will be accessible at the drop of a hat, all greedily gobbled up until the next striking nineteen year-old flashes a million dollar smile. In that respect, Stardom may be having the last laugh after all.
– David Fear