Why does every frame of Stardom seem to scream that it is as empty, superficial and slavish as the celebrity culture it means to satirize? If this indeed is the modus operandi behind co-writer/director Denys Arcand's film, the experiment, although bold, fails.
Stardom, which filmed in such places as Montreal, New York, Florida, London and Paris, tells the story-mostly through the lenses of television cameras-of the rise from obscurity to stardom and then back of Tina Menzhal (Jessica Par), a young hockey player from a small Canadian town who is recruited by French photographer Philippe (Charles Berling) and catapulted to celebrity as a supermodel whose lovers are older and prosperous.
'Story' may be the wrong word, for precious little is learned about Tina or her entourage, except what is told by the cameras of TV magazine shows and that of documentary filmmaker and photographer Bruce (Robert Lepage), who is filming Tina. But this is Arcand's gimmick: Only reveal the subject as the media sees her, the better to convey how little we really all see and know.
Arcand, who has delved deep into human nature and human psyches in such critically acclaimed films as The Decline of the American Empire and Jesus of Montreal, is all surface here. The lack of substance in this otherwise truthful and glittering film is his Pyrrhic victory. Arcand makes his point that the media's obsession with stardom and celebrity is meaningless, but the audience is left in the lurch. Stardom is hardly more than two hours of a television entertainment-magazine show. Or maybe a lot less, since the 'celebrity' really isn't and we're given no relief from her.
Par, however, is a find. She can indeed act and seems preternaturally comfortable in front of the camera. Quite reminiscent of Liv Tyler, Par appears to be at the threshold of an interesting career. In supporting roles, such as they are, Dan Aykroyd is fine as Barry Levine, the restaurateur who becomes Tina's lover, leaves his wife, and follows the girl to New York, where his own rise and fall in the city's cutthroat restaurant business happens in a heartbeat. Frank Langella's Blaine de Castillon becomes Tina's also much older but far more sophisticated diplomat lover. It might be a mismatch made for the record books, but little more is given us. Berling and Lepage are serviceable as the parasite photographers who float around Tina, although Berling is afforded a bit more dimension when his fondness for taping sex is exposed.
Camilla Rutherford is fine as a bitter, strung-out model who feels betrayed by Tina, but here again is another thin strand played for its sensationalism. Probably unintentionally, only Thomas Gibson as a calculating talent agent comes across as flesh and bones, although he, too, is just another piece of this celebrity collage.
Stardom is all the more frustrating in its insistence on truncating every scene so that nothing gets resolved or illuminated. It's on to the next shot, next scene. Indeed, the film's only connective tissue is the subjective television camera recording Tina's comings and goings.
In appropriately superficial ways, Stardom recalls John Schlesinger's 1965 Oscar-winning Darling, which was also about celebrity and the rise and fall of a beauty. But Darling was so much more. Arcand has said that Stardom arose from his fascination with beautiful women. His producers should have reminded him that beauty is only skin-deep.