Josse De Pauw has been described as "one of the most beloved actors in Belgium," and if most of his other film and stage roles resemble the character he plays in Everybody's Famous, it's easy to see why. De Pauw, with his puppy-dog eyes set in a long, craggy face, is totally believable and outright endearing as the hapless Jean Vereecken, a factory worker in his mid-40s who has no musical training but nonetheless dreams of writing the songs that will help propel his teenage daughter, Marva, to fame as a rock star.

Never mind that everyone else sees Marva (Eva Van Der Gucht) as a minimally talented singer who bears some physical resemblance to--but lacks the stage presence of--the Pillsbury doughboy. Although aware of her shortcomings, Marva shares her father's dreams and dares to think of herself as a nascent singing star. Hoping to be discovered, she spends weekends entering small-time performance competitions, none of which she comes close to winning--despite the wild applause from dad and her equally supportive mom Chantal (Gert Portael).

Marva's poor showing as a singer isn't Jean's only problem; he and his best buddy, Willy (Warner De Smedt), are thrown out of work when their factory shuts down, but Jean cannot break this news to his wife and daughter. Lacking anything else to do, he takes a ride in the country and encounters more bad luck: His car breaks down. But as fate (and a clever script) would have it, he's rescued by a famous and wildly popular singing star, known only as Debbie (Thekla Reuten), who was riding by on her bike. Her chief hobby just happens to be tinkering with car engines.

While Debbie goes to work under his hood, Jean is suddenly seized with a wild and crazy idea--a way to fulfill his dreams for himself and his daughter. Before he can think about the consequences of his actions, Jean subdues and kidnaps the famous singer and spirits her away to a friend's empty cottage in the country. Enlisting the reluctant assistance of Willy to watch over the blindfolded and strangely docile Debbie, Jean makes contact with her manager, Michael (Viktor Low), and arranges to meet him at an empty parking lot. In exchange for returning Debbie, Jean's plan is to demand his daughter's appearance on a popular TV show--singing one of his own songs!

The song he has in mind, however, is nothing more than a series of la-la-las which he's recorded on tape. It's a moment of high hilarity when Jean--his face concealed behind a passive Michael Jackson mask--hums along with the tape while sitting with Michael, the manager, in the front seat of his SUV. Michael can barely contain his mirth as he realizes he's not negotiating with a sinister kidnapper but just another no-talent jerk who wants to be a star. And from here on out, it's Michael who's in control of events and begins making demands of his own. For one thing, he wants Jean to keep Debbie out of sight a while longer, because the publicity about her disappearance has sent her CD sales through the roof.

Jean's daughter Marva gets her TV audition and a makeover of sorts; Jean gets to hear his song with lyrics and a full orchestral score; superstar Debbie and her benign captor Willy begin to fall in love. And Michael, the master manipulator, pulls off the biggest entertainment coup in Belgian history--a brilliantly staged live TV event mixing the most blatant form of showbiz pizzazz with all the immediacy and drama of "reality" TV. Oh, it's a "high day for the Flemish," as one character says, and in the end everybody's happy because--naturellement--everybody's famous.

An Academy Award nominee for best foreign-language film, Everybody's Famous proves to be a highly entertaining escape even for those of us who are already oversaturated with entertainment. It's not a new idea, of course, to artistically bite the hand that feeds you, but writer-director Dominique Deruddere has leavened his showbiz cynicism with an abundance of wit as well as humor. Even though his charming and original characters are Belgians, speaking Flemish, they could just as well be southern Californians, speaking Hollywoodese.

--Shirley Sealy