3 stars (out of four)
Few American directors can be more romantic about the movies than Henry Jaglom, maker of "Deja Vu" and "Festival in Cannes" and an unabashed fan of Orson Welles and the glory days of the old Hollywood. But few can be more cynical when the mood hits him, and "Hollywood Dreams" mostly shows Jaglom's nastier, funnier take.
It's a backstage Hollywood show, shot in Jaglom's usual open, semi-improvisatory style, about a struggling young actress named Margie Chizek from Mason City, Iowa, and her improbable success among some slightly ridiculous movers and shakers. The movie, just like its heroine, can be terrific, and it can also be wildly obnoxious. To enjoy it, you have to get used to Tanna Frederick, the no-holds-barred young actress (also from Iowa) who plays Margie. And you have to get used to Jaglom's unguarded style, which is pure '70s--and which I like.
The film follows Margie's progress from abject failure as an actress--an off-screen Jaglom rejects her (fictional) audition in the very first scene--to outrageous triumph. In a way, "Dreams" is an ugly duckling fairy tale, where the duckling gets uglier instead of prettier, the castles are filled with clowns instead of royalty and the swan pond is a moral swamp.
Margie's fey godfathers in this case, are Kaz (Zack Norman) who describes himself dubiously as a major producer, and his over-touchy housemate Caesar (played by David Proval, of both "The Sopranos" and "Mean Streets"). These guys are already in the midst of one Hollywood scam, trying to sell their young straight protegee Robin (Justin Kirk), as a gay film icon-to-be. Yet, impressed by Margie's brashness and her amazing ability to lie on a dime and prevaricate at will, Kaz installs her in their guest house. Soon she's involved in Kaz and Caesar's media schemes, in Robin's confused romantic life and possibly in a movie none of us would want to see. "Hollywood Dreams" doesn't have the corrosive impact of, say, Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" or Robert Altman's "The Player." But it's still an often smart, touching movie that doesn't miss a chance to tease or blast movie business hypocrisy and shenanigans. And the film also, as usual, offers plenty of opportunities for Jaglom's actors to shine. Norman and Proval are both comically and slightly touching, whether arguing in bed or embracing miniature dogs at their "beloved" wedding ceremony. Karen Black, who gave one of her all-time best performances in Jaglom's "Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?" is acid and merciless as a tart-tongued drama coach. This movie's top traditional acting comes from Jaglom vet Melissa Leo as Margie's Aunt Bee (named, I guess, in honor of the "Andy Griffith Show" character), who achieves moments of real poignancy and near-Tennessee Williams intensity.
Then there's Tanna Frederick, whom Jaglom showcases here, as he did Maggie Jacobson in "New Year's Day" and Andrea Marcovicci in "Someone to Love." Frederick is the key to the movie and she's definitely an impressive new talent, someone who can really hold the screen and who delivers something striking or memorable in every scene. And she's brave; Margie is one of the most obnoxious characters I've seen lately, in or out of a movie. But the role doesn't have enough modulation, enough highs and lows.
Even so, Jaglom and Frederick are right when they suggest that Margie's chutzpah is worth more than talent in this kind of battle. And Jaglom's Hollywood Dreams are far closer to reality than they might seem. Unfortunately.
Directed, written and edited by Henry Jaglom; photographed by Alan Caudillo; set decoration by Shauna Aronson; music by Harriet Shock; produced by Rosemary Marks. A Rainbow Releasing release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:41. MPAA rating: R (for language and some sexual content).
Margie Chizek - Tanna Frederick
Robin - Justin Kirk
Kaz - Zack Norman
Caesar - David Proval
Luna - Karen Black
Aunt Bee - Melissa LeoCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times