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'Everybody's Famous'

The fame game: 'Everybody's Famous' looks at the star-maker machinery

Friday, August 03, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The language is Flemish, but the subject is universal: Fame, especially the sort of celebrity that comes with being a worldwide recording star known by a single name. Such as Madonna. Or, as in "Everybody's Famous," Debbie. She's a sexy songbird whose singles chart at stratospheric levels.


RATING: R for brief nudity, sexuality; with English subtitles.

STARRING: Josse De Pauw, Eva Van Der Gucht

DIRECTOR: Dominique Deruddere

Critic's call: 3 stars


A poster of the Material Girl hangs on the bedroom wall of Marva Vereecken (Eva Van Der Gucht), a 17-year-old whose father has wanted fame for his daughter since she was a squalling infant sleeping under the poster of another, more famous Marva.

This morose teen has a figure that's more Carnie Wilson (before weight loss) than Britney Spears, but that's not her problem. A regular in local singing competitions where contestants masquerade as performers such as Andrea Bocelli or Otis Redding, Marva has no stage presence, no self-esteem and maybe no talent. It's only when she is tucked out of sight during a puppet show that she can reveal a lovely, confident voice.

Her father, Jean (Josse De Pauw), is a 45-year-old Belgian factory worker who doesn't want Marva to end up on an assembly line. He is bound and determined to make her a star, and he's willing to do almost anything. He goes 'round the bend when he and his co-workers, including younger pal Willy (Werner De Smedt), are laid off.

Jean, who doesn't want to tell his wife and daughter that he's out of work, happens upon singing sensation Debbie and decides to kidnap her. His unusual ransom demands and the reaction of Debbie, her manager, the watchful media and Jean's wife and daughter drive the movie into deeper but still lightweight comic territory.

Writer-director Dominique Deruddere says when he was a small boy in Belgium and announced he wanted to be a film director, fellow villagers laughed at him or considered show business out of reach or sinful.

"Today, people worship television," he says in the film's press notes. "The medium is supreme above all else. Fame and money are everything." Being on television conveys a celebrity like no other; come into people's homes and suddenly you're Jay or Dave or Colby or Amber to strangers.

In contradictory fashion, Deruddere shows that fame isn't what it's cracked up to be and that maybe it is. Or perhaps it just depends on the star, the star-making machinery and how long you've been soaking in the celebrity pool. We know, because stars tell us, that what may feel refreshing at first can become claustrophobic and restrictive as stars lose their anonymity and privacy.

The subtitled "Everybody's Famous," opening at the Denis, fails to adequately explore the origins of Jean's desire to see Marva make it. Still, the movie works because of De Pauw and Van Der Gucht, here making her professional debut. Even though she's initially rude and dismissive of her overeager but loving father, your heart goes out as she dons a conical bustier like Madonna wore in an earlier incarnation.

This import reportedly is among the movies about to be given the American treatment (along with "The Closet" and "With a Friend Like Harry...."). It will be interesting to see if the satire is given a sharper edge, which it could use.

Although it was all too brief, I especially liked an exchange between Marva and her mother about whether everyone wants to be famous or if happiness is attainable in a "normal life." If there aren't any normal people, who would buy all the CDs and movie tickets and premium cable channels and "Survivor" T-shirts? After all, someone has to be on the other side of the TV screen.

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