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'Lisa Picard Is Famous'

Friday, November 30, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Struggling New York actress Lisa Picard (Laura Kirk) thinks she's on the brink of fame and that playing Melissa Gilbert's drug-addicted sister in a movie of the week could be her breakthrough. A TV re-enactment got her nowhere; the way the Emmys ignore true-life stories -- hers featured a three-legged dog -- is enough to make Lisa want to boycott the awards show.

 
 
'Lisa Picard Is Famous'

RATING: Unrated but PG-13 in nature.

STARRING: Laura Kirk, Nat DeWolf

DIRECTOR: Griffin Dunne

Critic's Call:

   
 

In the meantime, she is thrilled that she's gotten a callback for an Advil commercial. Advil! That could mean thousands of dollars, and maybe it will make the public (and casting agents) forget the racy Wheat Chex commercial she filmed. That spawned protests and a regrettable unofficial Web site with her head on someone else's body.

"Lisa Picard Is Famous," a mockumentary about the thirst and achievement of fame, adopts the premise that everyone may be famous for 15 minutes but what about that period just before the fireworks fuse is lit? A documentary maker named Andrew, played by director Griffin Dunne, decides to chronicle the life of a 29-year-old actress who appears ready to hit it big. He follows her everywhere, trailing her as if she were Julia Roberts -- but without the recognition, success or stalkers.

This brings the crew into contact with Lisa's best friend, a gay actor named Tate (Nat DeWolf) who is working on a one-man show and recently was an extra on "Guiding Light"; her supportive boyfriend (Daniel London), who is not in the business; and her co-workers, including a boss who always knows when Lisa is faking illness to go on an audition.

Mixed into the voyeuristic footage of Lisa are interviews with real celebrities -- Carrie Fisher, Fisher Stevens, Penelope Ann Miller, an actor who nearly was cast as the professor on "Gilligan's Island" -- ruminating about fame. Sometimes the two worlds collide, as when Lisa and Tate run into Sandra Bullock in the post office.

The documentary crew ends up capturing that pre-fame period, but it comes in a way that no one quite expects.

"Lisa Picard Is Famous," opening at the Denis, is notable for its cameos (there are many more, which you should stumble across on your own) and its sense that you couldn't make some of this stuff up. They did make some of it up, but other bits were inspired by the lives of the writers, who were actors Kirk and DeWolf.

Kirk, for instance, says she had a demo reel "which consisted of a Dr. Pepper commercial, a re-enactment and some inexplicable Japanese thing where I played an android. And I took it with me on my first trip to Los Angeles with the intent to show it around. A friend of mine saw it and fortunately convinced me not to show it."

"Lisa Picard" creates sympathy for its young actors, even when they become increasingly self-absorbed, and when a venture proves disappointing, you feel for the person. But this is no drama or serious treatise; it's a funny take on fame anchored by actress Kirk who really does look like a young Penelope Ann Miller. The humor comes in the small moments -- recognizing who's in the audience of a play, watching a cheesy movie in which the actors emote with their faces or listening to Carrie Fisher talk about the celebrity cycle of life.

The effervescent mood turns a little sour and serious near the end, but the script lightens the tone again before it's all over. It's generally great and unexpected fun, and you may never watch another Advil commercial or look at the background extras on a soap in quite the same way.

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