Sienna Miller's bruised, affecting voice and enormous, hurting eyes provide the best reason to see Factory Girl, the story of Andy Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick, who shot to stardom and then died from too much hard living at age 28. Celebrated in a George Plimpton oral biography, Sedgwick's story is that archetypal one of the girl who comes to the big city for fame and fortune, only to end up utterly destroyed. From Manon and Dumas' La Dame aux Camellias to the real-life tale of model Gia Carangi, these stories remain compulsively watchable, rife as they are with glamour and doom.
However, neither George Hickenlooper's direction nor Captain Mauzer's screenplay is particularly compelling, presenting Warhol's world in predictable, cartoonish fashion. There's a lot of grainy, handheld camerawork, distorted perspective and fragmented editing to convey the period's hyper, drug-fueled ambiance, but very little insight into the characters. (The scrappy technique has the feel of last-minute production scrambling to give this something approaching cinematic style.) Warhol really comes off as the villain, a desensitized exploiter of human beings, incapable of feeling, but this interpretation seems the only one that feature filmmakers seem to be able to come up with (as in I Shot Andy Warhol, and all those '60s and '70s films with cameo appearances by him). Donning the requisite wig and shades, Guy Pearce gives a performance as basically shallow as the conception, spouting inanities like "You're the boss, applesauce," which constitute the major portion of scripted wit.
What is witty, and damned elegant to boot, is Miller's delivery of her often shallow lines. After all the fashion-magazine hype and tabloid scandal, it's bracing to see that this actress can really deliver. I found the real Edie's 1972 film, Ciao Manhattan, unwatchable because of the pathetic spectacle of the woman, obviously drugged out of her mind, with a relentless camera exposing the human wreckage. If anything, Miller's performance truly honors this lost soul, telegraphing a formidable native intelligence and heartbreaking vulnerability with blazing clarity.
The script's worst fault is the concoction of an idealized, "conventional" romance between Edie and, as he's referred to in the credits for obviously non-libelous reasons, a Rock Star, transparently meant to be Bob Dylan. In the most bizarre piece of casting since Alice Faye played Fanny Brice in a bowdlerized 1940 biopic, The Rose of Washington Square, Hayden Christensen, with his perfect male-model looks, has been cast in this part of Edie's unattainable dream lover, sort of a sweeter version of Brando's Wild One on a motorbike. Christensen reads his every line with a parody Dylan nasality which often verges into the unconsciously hilarious. The presentation of this Prince Charming character, cleaned up of any messy complexities or addictions of his own, smacks of ancient Hollywood wish-fulfillment idealization of the corniest ilk.
Other bits of casting are more fortuitous, like James Naughton's scary WASP of a father to Edie, Illeana Douglas's fashion editor gorgon of a Diana Vreeland, and, especially, Beth Grant as Warhol's Polish mama, who brings some welcome, amusingly raw authenticity to this inch-deep paste-up job of a film.