Film Review: He's Way More Famous Than YouAnything-goes, loopily autobiographical romp about the travails of a desperate actress it would be a nightmare to encounter in real life. But haven’t we all, on some level?
It’s been eight long years since The Squid and the Whale, and actress Halley Feiffer, who had a role in that indie success, hasn’t done anything since. This beyond-desperate young woman has just been given the heave-ho by her boyfriend Michael (Michael Chernus) with whom she was writing a script, so she tries to turn lemons into lemonade by embarking on a new project with her brother Ryan (Ryan Spahn, in a fictional role). Their concept has them playing lovers, in a flailing grab for edginess. The fact that Ryan is the boyfriend of Michael Urie—constantly referred to here as “the gay guy from ‘Ugly Betty’”—is key, since Halley, who has always shamelessly exploited her every connection (starting with her father, eminent cartoonist Jules Feiffer), wants Urie to direct the film.
Halley’s very blonde and totally blind ambition, however, doesn’t prevent her from throwing her own sibling under the bus when longtime idol Ralph Macchio suddenly becomes available for the role. Everything seems in place for this unlikeliest of projects, with Urie indeed at the helm, but Halley’s chronic alcoholism completely shuts down the production and she finds herself unsurprisingly deserted and alone, with only a bottle and a straw to comfort her.
There’s a lot of talent and humor in He’s Way More Famous Than You, and if you can abandon yourself to the shameless, anything-goes spirit of the work, you may enjoy it. Coming as it does from a whole crew of show-biz insiders, starting with writers Feiffer and Spahn (Urie’s real-life partner), it’s filled with canny observations and hilariously snarky comments about fellow actors, their work and ever-shifting reputations, delivered at a typical 20-something breathless pace. And like her onscreen character, Feiffer has obviously called in every favor imaginable, with a cast that includes the likes of Macchio himself, former co-star Jesse Eisenberg, Mamie Gummer (basically here because she’s “Meryl Streep’s daughter”), Vanessa Williams, and the wonderful, husky-voiced Natasha Lyonne (as a recovering addict), poking spicy fun at themselves. Indeed, it’s as if Feiffer has only to mention the fantasy of kidnapping someone like Ben Stiller for the actual Stiller to make an exasperated appearance in her film.
Urie, who has proven himself one of New York’s finest theatre actors, acts with an ingratiatingly bemused wryness, and directs the film at a good, quick clip, wholly empathetic to every nuance of the performances. The sunny, funny look of the film helps, too. Feiffer throws herself into her role with unbridled abandon, like an X-rated Carole Lombard. There’s nothing she won’t do for a laugh—her lesbian moment with her equally dippy friend (Tracee Chimo) is a comic highlight—but I confess to preferring her wild and crazy to her later, repentantly morose and sober self. The puckish Spahn is ideally cast as her fictional brother, at times even outdoing her for utter cluelessness. Even his “father,” Jules Feiffer, appears, eccentrically played by Austin Pendleton, whose reputation as a young actor’s guru is here continually extolled.
The movie seems to have two endings. One occurs with a rare moment of self-realization on the part of both Halley and Ryan. The second happens a year later, with the screening of their finally completed project, which is even more freakishly outrageous than anyone could have dreamt. I much preferred the former.