Undiscovered exhibits a scary phenomenon that has been happening in pop culture recently: the return of the waif. Waifs were big back in the '50s, with Audrey Hepburn and Leslie Caron leading the pack, but pretty much tapered off in the '60s, with Mia Farrow. But in Undiscovered, Ashlee Simpson is the waifiest waif since Elisabeth Bergner and Luise Rainer, the grandmothers of them all. Playing Clea, who seems to be the lesbian friend of Brier (Pell James), a model who moves to L.A. to become an actress and falls in love with musician Luke Falcon (Steven Strait), Simpson easily steals every scene she's in, but not in a good way. It's petty larceny, anyway, for both James and Strait are blandly ineffectual as the leads, while Simpson plies the adorably raspy-voiced gamut of huddled poses, demure peeks from under pulled-down watch caps, and sexless, puppy-dog cuddling. Additionally, she reminds me of what Pauline Kael once wrote about the full horror of onetime screen ingénue Gloria Jean: "You can't even close your eyes, because she sings."
Clichés abound in every frame here, and yet it's all so Lalaland dopey and-God help us-heartfelt, Undiscovered somehow appeals to your hidden cineaste's masochist. Maybe it's the idiotic ploy of Brier and Clea creating a fake Internet/hired actors "buzz" that propels Luke Falcon (how's that for a porno moniker?) to near-instant stardom. And what about Brier's sad dilemma: She never seems to be able to stop dating rock stars, even after her last unhappy affair with a cheating, drunken lout? Or is it the agreeably hammy presence of screen veterans like Carrie Fisher, Fisher Stevens and Peter Weller playing, respectively, an overly maternal model agent, a sleazy record producer and a scary Phil Spector-type industry biggie, unashamedly milking their scenes as if this were Chekhov? There's also a nice tidbit by the talented Shannyn Sossamon doing a takeoff on supermodel Gisele Bundchen that is spot-on. It's all very tacky, overheated and derivative, like Los Angeles itself.
James, with her highly ordinary face and body, is almost laughable, cast as an in-demand, hot model. Strait, with his angelic face and typical young actor's buff chassis, is much more the model type, even in his acting, which is barely adequate. (His character is described as a cross between Jeff Buckley and Elvis Costello; his singing is like a Creed outtake.) The music itself, by the way, could strictly be filed under the all-purpose "Complaint Rock," the effects of way too much chilled white whine.