Lisa Picard Is Famous
aka Famous
Lisa Picard Is Famous

USA, 2001. Not Rated. 87 minutes.

Cast: Laura Kirk, Nat DeWolf, Griffin Dunne, Daniel London, with cameos by Sandra Bullock, Carrie Fisher, Melissa Gilbert, Buck Henry, Spike Lee, Penelope Ann Miller, Charlie Sheen, Mira Sorvino, Fisher Stevens
Writer: Laura Kirk & Nat DeWolf
Music: Evan Lurie, Coati Mundi (additional songs)
Cinematographer: William Rexer
Producer: Dolly Hall, Mira Sorvino
Director: Griffin Dunne


Grade: C- Review by Carlo Cavagna

E nough with the mockumentaries. Unless your name is Christopher Guest, enough with the mockumentaries. And even if it is Christopher Guest, you may wish to consider some other type of project for awhile, because the whole mockumentary thing is played out. This is Spinal Tap (co-written by Guest) was the king of the mockumentary, after all, and it came out nearly twenty years ago. A handful of others followed, like Bob Roberts and Guest's Waiting for Guffman, and now it's grown into a cinematic sub-genre, with such recent entries as Drop Dead Gorgeous, The Big Tease, and Guest's Best in Show, as well as several genuine documentaries made with mockumentary intent, like Unzipped and American Movie, where the reality is so ridiculous that no invented satire is necessary.

Therein lies the problem. Most mockumentaries are shooting fish in a barrel, like the high fashion industry (Unzipped), dog shows (Best in Show), and beauty pageants (Drop Dead Gorgeous). These things are so far removed from ordinary's people lives that most of the general public already sees them as fairly absurd. There's nothing particularly relevatory about mocking dog shows or beauty pageants. So, for a mockumentary to work, it should satirize something not generally seen as absurd, or if it does choose to shoot fish in a barrel, it should at least be filled with good jokes and original characters. Lisa Picard Is Famous fails to do any of these things. It chooses two related subjects to mock, both easy to make fun of: The struggle of young New York actors to forge a career and become famous, and the nature of fame itself.

Lisa Picard Is Famous opens with an unnamed documentarian (Griffin Dunne, who also directs) explaining that he wants to follow someone's rise to fame, and that to do it, he must find someone who is not famous yet, but on the verge. He chooses Lisa Picard (co-writer Laura Kirk), who has just starred in an implausibly racy Wheat Chex commercial and wrapped a small but supposedly key role in a Melissa Gilbert made-for-television movie called A Phone Call for Help. The documentary then records Lisa's efforts to land more roles, as well as those of her talent-deprived best friend, Tate Kelly (co-writer Nat DeWolf), to stage a ponderous, self-involved, ludicrously bad one-man off-off-off-Broadway show about being gay in America called Hate Crimes and Broken Hearts.

The film's satire hits all the expected targets, showing Lisa The Artist over-preparing for two lines in an audition for an Advil commercial, Lisa The Diva condescending to people who end up being more successful than she, and Lisa the Sage commenting that one must always remember what's really important, and then, when pressed, being unable to say what is, in fact, really important. Kirk and DeWolfLisa and Tate are predictably none-too-bright, but they sure are committed to their craft, lacking any perspective or self-awareness, which makes them perfect subjects for a mockumentary--just like all the other subjects of every other mockumentary you've seen.

There's something smugly self-congratulatory about all this. Lisa Picard Is Famous, a project that began with Kirk wanting to create something to use as a calling card or highlight reel for auditions, is based on Kirk and DeWolf's own struggles as actors. (In fact, Lisa Picard's name is a joke--both Kirk and Picard are the names of Star Trek captains.) In essence, Kirk and DeWolf are saying, "We're willing participants in the struggle to be actors and attain fame, but, unlike everyone else, we're aware of how ridiculous it all is--ha, ha--and that makes us better." Of course, if you are an actor like Laura Kirk, who counts a recent Academy Award™-winner like Mira Sorvino as a close friend, you are not exactly launching your film career from a position of complete disadvantage. Particularly when that friend is willing to produce your film, persuade Griffin Dunne to direct and act in it, and recruit other famous friends to appear in it, like Sandra Bullock, Charlie Sheen, and Spike Lee. So claims that Laura Kirk's life parallels that of Lisa Picard are out the window.

As for the nature of fame itself, Lisa Picard Is Famous doesn't reach earth-shattering conclusions. It opens with the de rigueur Andy Warhol quote about how everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes, a particularly obvious choice in this time of dreadful and oxymoronic "reality television." The film then makes the astonishing discovery that fame is arbitrary and not so easy to come by, and irrelevantly concludes with the concept that the very nature of observing something changes it--a old idea clearly applied to experimentation and observation for the first time by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Paul Dirac in the 1930s. So why is Dunne's character, who also harbors a not-so-secret desire to be famous, musing about the impossibility of possessing objective knowledge? Because he realizes he has changed the lives of his subjects by documenting them. Though the movie doesn't say so explicitly, Kirk and DeWolf are no doubt telling us that people who are famous are more observed by society, which changes them. Wow… being famous changes people. What an epiphany.

Lisa Picard Is Famous is at its best when it manages to surprise us, like when Lisa discusses how she is often confused with a half-dozen other ivory-skinned, fine-boned, button-nosed actresses (like Penelope Ann Miller) as their photos float across the screen, and then the film cuts to Penelope Ann Miller making the same observations. The fate of Tate's appalling play is not unexpected, but it comes with a hilarious twist. The awkward presence of Lisa's useless but worshipful boyfriend (Daniel London) is also a funny thread; he mostly hangs around silently until the climactic scene when silence would be the wisest choice. Unfortunately, such moments are not enough to lift the tedium. Fans of mockumentaries should probably check out Lisa Picard Is Famous, but anyone tiring of the genre has no reason to rush to the theater.

Review © September 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 First Look Pictures. All Rights Reserved

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