Emmanuelle Bercort's Backstage is a cinematic mosh pit of rock 'n' roll and celebrity-worship clichés that never comes alive with anything authentic. Yes, there's often truth in clichés, but also plenty of bunk when clichés come packaged like an album of overplayed golden oldies.
The film does often amuse thanks to no-holds-barred performances from the two leads. There's Isild le Besco as Lucie, a provincial (literally) teen who is absolutely besotted with mega-pop star Lauren. Emmanuelle Seigner pours passion and energy into Lauren, a spoiled, neurotic, demanding, sexy blonde conjurer who suggests the love child that Madonna and Deborah Harry would have had if they could.
Younger art-house audiences may want to check out the film's gay undercurrent, although the L word seems more relevant to the Lucie/Lauren names than anything else. Yes, obsessed fan Lucie proclaims her love for idol Lauren and Lauren repays with plenty of flirtatious overtures. And then there's the passive presence of Lauren's right hand Juliette (Noémie Lvovsky), the slavish, resigned longtime confidante who's a spin on Sunset Boulevard's Max, Norma Desmond's in-house protector and ex-husband. But the ambiguity in Backstage isn't just sexual; it's pervasive.
Beyond Sunset Boulevard, the film rips most of its pages from About Eve. An early scene establishes Lucie's fixation on Lauren when the superstar and a TV crew pay a surprise visit to Lucie's home in the boonies. The teen is so stunned she refuses to participate. To make amends, she runs away to Paris, stalks her idol, and worms her way into Lauren's posh hotel suite. Thus, Lucie also enters Lauren's neurotic world, meeting Seymour (Valéry Zeitoun), the star's no-nonsense manager; Jean-Claude (Jean-Paul Walle Wa Wana), a kindly bodyguard; and personal assistant Juliette, a.k.a. Jul.
Lauren takes to her urchin-like, star-crossed fan, initially using the girl to obtain forbidden drugs. Lauren also comes on to the teen, most notably in a provocative bathtub scene. Soon the girl is wearing Lauren's clothes and settling magically within the star's inner circle. As Lucie's access to almost all things Lauren grows, she also bumps up against Lucie's estranged boyfriend Daniel (Samuel Benchetrit), who has apparently dumped the diva. There's the obligatory decadent party scene, performance footage, and music industry flare-ups. But after Lucie and Daniel pair off, the story goes adrift.
Backstage is also problematic, at least for stateside audiences, because it is saddled with a pounding soundtrack comprising Lauren's songs and a kind of generic French rock reminiscent of Françoise Hardy, a pop darling of decades past.
While le Besco and Seigner (wife of Roman Polanski) are always interesting, the familiar material isn't worth the detour. It's like a metaphor for French pop, which has always been alive in its native country but rarely gets past customs into our culture. But, vive la difference, as they say, as long as we lower those mysterious cultural barriers.