The rise-and-fall of a fictional supermodel is the topic of "Stardom," an irritatingly over-conceptualized yet blandly under-realized documentary-style satire-drama.
Narrated to death by a parade of invariably obnoxious hairdressers, photographers, agents, talk show hosts and Much Music VJs (it takes place in Canada), it's the story of an 18-year-old knockout brunette (newcomer Jessica Paré) spotted by a sports photographer while playing hockey and rapidly whisked into a pampered, jet-setting lifestyle.
Half mocumentary and half an insincere, tisk-tisk condemnation of beauty as a commodity and a social currency, the picture is a ripe idea corrupted by its own self-satisfaction and made worthless by the fact that the girl at its axis is wildly uninteresting.
She's seen giggling with another model, who becomes a jealous, bitter addict impregnated by a grunge rocker. She becomes an arm ornament for a string of older men (a French photographer played by Charles Berling, a failing trendy restaurateur deadpanned by Dan Aykroyd, an abusive diplomat played by Frank Langella) -- and what they see in her is obvious, but what she sees in them goes utterly unexplored. She also, of course, becomes merchandise in the eyes of her uber-manager ("Dharma and Greg's" Thomas Gibson), who is full of viciously truthful asides about how women age in the public eye. ("Nudity is the last weapon to rescue a career," he declares.)
It's no accident that Paré's character barely gets a chance to express herself in the course of the film. Writer-director Denys Arcand -- who created an ingenious twist on the Passion play in 1990 called "Jesus of Montreal" -- intends to make a point by disregarding everything about her except her looks.
But the irony is lost when the girl does get her chance to express herself to the camera, because it turns out she genuinely hasn't anything more to offer.
Maybe most models really are this vacant. But if you're going to make a feature film about one of them, how about creating a beauty worth getting to know a little?
What should have been the core of the comedy and/or the drama -- the girl's frustration with being devalued -- goes completely ignored by Arcand. Instead he is busy packing the movie with feeble swipes at the entertainment industry hype machine, lifeless mockeries of fluffy "news" programs and tedious lampoons of Jerry Springer's talk show and CNN's "Style" maven Elsa Klench.
A good concept run afoul of its gimmick, "Stardom" begins to sink in the first five minutes with annoying sham TV footage and it spends the next hour and a half drowning in obvious, self-congratulatory irony.