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'Stardom' fades Heavy-handed approach detracts from satire on fame

Friday, December 08, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Satirizing the cult of celebrity in his latest film, "Stardom," Canadian director Denys Arcand approaches the subject with the overheated, almost giddy excitement of someone who thinks he's pushing a fresh concept.


RATING: R, for language and sexual content.

STARRING: Jessica Pare, Dan Aykroyd, Frank Langella.

DIRECTOR: Denys Arcand.



The movie, now at the Denis Theater, centers on the rise and fall of Tina Menzhal (Jessica Pare), a teen-age hockey player from Cornwall, an Ontario city seemingly located halfway between obscurity and indifference. A local photographer snaps some shots of her and sends them to a modeling agency.

A pretty hockey player? You betcha. Faster than you can say Jaromir Jagr, callow Tina finds herself ascending the ladder to supermodel fame and fortune. The process spirals out of control and takes on a life of its own. She hooks up with a Montreal photographer, Phillippe Gascon (Charles Berling), and then with a New York superagent (Thomas Gibson) who never raises his voice as he jacks up her price.

But the driving force behind her success is, of course, the media -- particularly television. We watch her climb to the top mostly through the hyperactive, hyperbolic eye of the camera.

In his zest to lampoon TV by mimicking its breathless inanity, Arcand falls into some of the very sins he wants to make fun of.

We keep seeing Tina on interview shows in which no one waits for her to answer their questions. It doesn't matter. Tina, who is not especially articulate to start with, is just the latest grist for the mill. The television types just keep babbling on, stimulating themselves into states of artificial excitement. They make it seem like fame is better than sex.

Maybe that's what attracts her various male admirers: Montreal restaurateur Barry Levine (Dan Aykroyd), Canadian ambassador Blaine de Castillon (Frank Langella) and photographer Bruce Taylor (Robert Lepage), who decides to make a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Tina.

Taylor's footage, shot in black-and-white, slowly takes over the second half of "Stardom," in which Tina's fame inevitably ebbs. Here is the gray reality behind the banal glamour. But it is no less heavy-handed than the relentless cartoonishness of the film's first half.

The nadir comes when an ex-model (Camilla Rutherford), bitter at former pal Tina's success, decides to mount an art exhibition in which the, er, sculptures are made of her own excrement.

Arcand might have done better to follow the lead of his actors, several of whom demonstrate that less can be more -- notably Gibson, who speaks barely above a whisper while doctoring spin or cutting a deal as if it were a pound of flesh; Langella, who perfects the diplomat's deadpan even while undergoing slapstick humiliation; and Aykroyd, who maintains an ever shakier calm as things start going wrong.

Then there's Pare, a teen-ager herself in her movie debut, playing a young woman with an edge of underlying resentment who finds success as a cipher. Will she find out for herself what stardom is all about? Talk about life imitating art.

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