LISA PICARD IS 'FAMOUS'

NR
Reviews

At the very least, the wittily titled Lisa Picard Is "Famous" proves yet again, to believers in documentrary grit and spontaneity, that nothing improves realism like elegance. In the mockumentary tradition of This Is Spinal Tap, Husbands and Wives and Best in Show, "Famous," directed by and starring Griffin Dunne, dons the form and technique of a shoot-from-the-hip subject doc, while in fact unfolding a story and characters that are entirely made up. Also crucially like those films, it covertly adds grace and posture to all the hand-held and seemingly impromptu set-ups, making watching a much more pleasurable experience than you can get from a movie that strains to intimate its low budget. (Conversely, two of the most respected documentaries from the '90s, Paradise Lost and Mr. Death, were unapologetically well-crafted.) A camera prying into the bedroom of the title character, for example, makes a delicate choreography, and the motions it's put through from her rebuffs are whimsical. It's hard to imagine a more concise staging for the scene. 'Famous," like Spinal Tap and Best in Show, also drolly reflects on basically nondescript folk pursuing fame and glory, but while the earlier films stayed put on the foibles of their grasping characters, 'Famous" broadens its interest to celebrityhood itself.

New York documentary filmmaker Andrew (Griffin Dunne) informs us in voiceover that he wants to photograph the precise moment someone turns into a media star. If it's true that everyone has 15 minutes of fame, it shouldn't be so hard to make someone's ascendance from lump to luminary a Kodak moment. He's heard that Lisa Picard (Laura Kirk) could well be on the fast track to success. She starred in a steamy Wheat Chex commercial and is about to be seen as Melissa Gilbert's sister in the TV cautionary fable, 'A Phone Call for Help.'

Lisa needs little convincing to participate in Andrew's project; she figures a film all about herself can only help her to get where she wants to go. The last place she expects to get hindrance is from her shy gay friend Tate (Nat DeWolf), whom she introduces to Andrew's crew. Tate is immersed in his leagues-from-Broadway, one-man show about his personal bouts with discrimination, anyway, an arena that Andrew admits in voiceover is about as far on a limb he's willing to climb to capture the context of Lisa's life. The show is as clubbing as the enlarged headlines on Tate's stage backdrop, but, in a wicked parody of bandwagon criticism, The New York Times gives it a rave, appraisal by tastemakers follows suit and the aisles fill each night. Tate's is another story from Lisa's, yet Andrew has his scoop right in his lap.

Lisa's aspirations to hit the big time are not only not panning out but bringing her much distress, and director Dunne keys into fame-seeking as a disease; his character even diagnoses himself as infected. Part of the reason 'Famous" is so much fun comes from Dunne and the producers having recruited celebrities to skewer themselves. Lisa and Tate bamboozle Sandra Bullock into believing she's an acquaintance of theirs, and Charlie Sheen and Spike Lee fall for Tate's theatre hokum hook, line, and sinker, uttering inanities about its relevance after a show. While Tate may be a bit foolish, his enthusiasm is not, and when Andrew sits down with him one morning after his triumph is secured, he and we delight in Tate's bashful glee.

--Peter Henne