You should probably expect that there’s trouble in store when a film set for art-house distribution gets a whopping 13 percent approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site (68 out of 78 reviews are negative, and the other 10 are hardly raves). And trouble—along with a large dose of tedium—is what you get with Factory Girl.
Since I’ve spent the better part of the week explaining to people who Edie Sedgwick was, I suppose that’s the best place to start in discussing this biopic. Edie was the quintessential poor little rich girl who dropped out of Radcliffe to become part of the art world in 1960s New York. Just how she was planning on being a part of that world is not answered by the movie (she seems to have mastered drawing pictures of horses), nor is it really answered by real life. In essence, she simply wanted to be part of a world she overglamorized in her head. Falling in with the Andy Warhol crowd at his famous “Factory” gave her the 15 minutes of fame that Warhol proposed everyone would have.
She “acted” in some of his movies (no, not the later, more coherent ones that were made under Warhol’s imprint by Paul Morrissey and Jed Johnson), hobnobbed with the famous, descended into drugs and died of an overdose in 1971. Except for her toffee-nosed background and grim end, she wasn’t a great deal different from other Warhol figures like Viva or Ultraviolet—manufactured “superstars” with a lot of attitude and little actual ability. Edie achieved greater fame in the early ‘80s via the book Edie by Jean Stein and George Plimpton. From a marketing standpoint, the problem is that the film is about 25 years too late to connect with the general public. From any other standpoint, the movie’s just pretty much a dog.
Almost none of it works. Both Sienna Miller and Guy Pearce do their best to breathe life into Edie and Warhol respectively, but there’s not much for them to work with. Most of the rest of the cast—Illeana Douglas as Diana Vreeland to one side—are simply bad, except for Hayden Christensen, who is very far past dreadful. Though threats of a lawsuit resulted in him being absurdly billed simply as “the musician,” he’s clearly supposed to be Bob Dylan—a callow, unpleasant, idiotic and stupefyingly WASP-ized Dylan, but Dylan all the same. No wonder he threatened legal action. The mere fact of being portrayed by Chistensen would be enough to make anyone’s blood run cold—never mind the wholly speculative affair with Edie presented in the film or the vague hints that his dumping her plunged her into the despair that finally claimed her life.
A lot of the problem with the overall film stems from the screenplay by Aaron Richard Golub and Captain Mauzner (well, if there can be a real person named Sargent Shriver, I don’t see why there can’t be a Captain Mauzner, but does he outrank him?). Edie Sedgwick may have been pretty shallow, but the screenplay trumps her by being even more so. This isn’t much more than an A&E biographical fluff piece—with boobs, bad language and an attempt to turn the story into a warped love triangle. Edie is ultimately envisioned as a kind of romantic object trapped between a jealous, self-loathing homosexual (Warhol) and an ill-tempered, but straight, musical “prophet” (Dylan).
It doesn’t help that the movie can’t seem to settle on an attitude. It wants to unmask Warhol as a vampiric fake, while improbably painting Edie as the one person who can articulate the point behind his art (that he’s throwing America back in its own face). You can’t have it both ways—at least not in a narrative this simplistic.
Positive points are few and far between, but the film does boast an interesting look. And the scene where we’re introduced to Warhol’s Factory—gliding through the anarchy of unfocused creativity while Puccini’s “Un bel di” plays on the soundtrack—actually captures something of the allure of the era. Unfortunately, the look isn’t enough, and the scene in question amounts to maybe one minute out of 90 otherwise very long minutes. If this doesn’t dissuade you from seeing Factory Girl, make tracks, because the likelihood of it still being around after this Thursday is slim. Rated R for pervasive drug use, strong sexual content, nudity and language.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke