Ellie Parker Movie Review
Thing is, it's not enough. There's a decent turn by Rebecca Rigg, as Ellie's realist gal pal Sam. And we do get to hear Watts-as-Ellie rehearse Bronx-bimbo lines like, "Yeah, I sucked his cock!" while frantically stripping off one outfit for the next while in her car in L.A. traffic and on the cellular. But that's all table scraps.
Parker opens with Ellie-as-dead-body in the Hollywood hills, a voice yelling "Cut!" on her improvised death throes. The transparent metaphor: Actor = set decoration. From there, to a bare audition room before the customary casting types, Ellie fights for her scene's motivation (intercut with desperate mind's-eye images), while a pubescent director requests the industry standard "raw." Ellie falls to the floor wailing, garnering applause... and the requisite "we'll be in touch." The tired allegory is trotted out: The plaintive need to be noticed, embraced, loved.
Shortly after the en route wardrobe/personality quick-change, Parker descends into the done-to-death diatribe of myriad feature and cable film exposés on the wacky actor life. Ellie has quasi-spiritual discussions on selfhood with fellow actress Sam, a big city cynic who equates identity with career. Ellie meets her "you are what you do" with an exasperated "I don't know what I'm doing!" And in cliché therapy sessions, Ellie complains of feeling "suffocated," afraid of starting some "bigger" life on the horizon, tired of "being someone else" and "judged." Hmm. Nice career choice, Ellie.
There's the inevitable cheating loser boyfriend (Mark Pellegrino) bedded by Ellie's casting assistant buddy (Jennifer Syme) and an accidental meeting with insecure "sort of" cinematographer Chris (writer/director Scott Coffey) who gives ambivalence a new neurotic twist. An obligatory club scene, bloated "Method" workshop, and girl-talk session later and we're browbeaten with Ellie's burnout, her promising future now "a threat."
Ellie tells her agent (Chevy Chase) she's quitting, trashes her photos and tapes (then, realizing she's lost without them, digs them back out), and has a desperate tryst with Chris, before getting the coveted callback. Donning her best outfit, she braves one more role before a hotel room full of nihilistic, wasted prima donna "artists."
Ellie Parker began as a short at Sundance 2001 and should have remained one. Its grainy, hand-held-DV documentary voyeurism nicely renders Ellie's loopy life one big, cheesy audition, but, stretched to an hour and a half, it's a test of one's patience. Its montage of endless rejections, piece-meal relationships, and predictable accidents befalling those blessed/cursed with more chutzpah than talent makes for a hoot of a UCLA screener, but yawner almost everywhere else. Though sprinkled with in-jokes, such as Ellie and Sam having a sense-memory vs. faking-it cry-off, and satisfactory symbolisms, like Ellie's infinitely regressing reflection in mirrors, Parker strikes too much as a self-conscious homage to Watts' upstart days in Hollywood acting oblivion. (Note: The short was made before Watts landed her breakout role in Mulholland Drive.)
As a character study, it would seem Ellie ultimately stands up and faces the music, her soul intact in the midst of some fairly soulless types. But what's the upshot here? That Hollywood's fairly phony? Not exactly a revelation. And with a resolution so intentionally vague (not to be confused with open-ended), we're seriously underwhelmed by Parker. Does Ellie hang it up, or has her skin thickened? Is Coffey being deferential to Hollywood Hell, or to the uncertainty of creative lives? Or to life, in general?
If smoggy ambiguity is at the writer/director's core, he's pussyfooting, perhaps carried away on shady "open to interpretation" or "no rules" storytelling. Rules are meant to be bent, but break them and you cross over into banality and mediocrity. Parker walks too timid a line, afraid of making a strong point, even if it is about weak characters. And, subjective judgments aside, that's just plain lame. Ellie asks, "What happens when you start becoming the person you're pretending to be?" For a film, often the same as for a person: It risks getting lost in the idea of itself, in its ambitions to appear boldly entertaining, while losing track of its need to simply be original and heartfelt.