Initially a 16-minute short screened at Sundance in 2001, Ellie Parker was shot over the course of four years, during which time lead actress Naomi Watts went from unknown to real-life stardom. Certainly this feature, a humorous, cinéma-vérité-like look at the ups and downs of a Tinseltown actress wannabe, would be nothing without her. Game for almost anything, Watts displays serious comic chops and is, as always, a delight to watch.
The material itself isn't all that fresh, although it's breezy and easy to sit through. Ellie auditions for parts. Ellie deals with a slob boyfriend. Ellie uses her car as dressing room and impromptu office. Frustrated Ellie is determined to quit the business, but when she gets a callback on a film, decides to give it one last try. (This sequence, involving some drug-addled Russian film producers, is truly bizarre.)
Shot on digital video, Ellie Parker looks like-well, let's face it-total crap. It's grainy, with jumpy photography and sound quality that could charitably be described as "screechy." In many ways it plays as if it were an audition tape for Watts herself, who by this time, of course, has proven herself in any number of films.
It's not that director Scott Coffey, who has known Watts for years, is exploiting his friendship by releasing the film at this time. But even though Ellie Parker has its gutbucket charms, you have to wonder why Coffey and Watts wanted a theatrical release. There's a "been there, done that" aspect to the material which will ensure that the audience will be limited to Naomi Watts completists and the fringes of the indie film scene.