DIRECTED BY Peter Bogdanovich
STARRING Kirsten Dunst, Eddie Izzard, Edward Herrmann
Opens June 4, Cert 12A, 112 mins
It’s based on a true story Peter Bogdanovich first heard from Orson Welles, and anyone intrigued by Hollywood Babylon-style scandal will purr at the prospect. The venerable director’s endured his own share of front-page trauma, and it’s a delight to see him back on class-by-clockwork form. If the utterly surreal ensemble cast gives you pause, rest assured this collision of oddballs makes it all the more wittily watchable.
Twenties Tinseltown, the Jazz Age. William Randolph Hearst (multi-millionaire publishing magnate, played by Herrmann) invites high society guests for a weekend of hedonism on his luxury yacht. Among the merry-makers are woman-magnet Charlie Chaplin (a surprisingly successful portrayal from Izzard), Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies (Dunst, vibrant), gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) and British novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley, absolutely posh), on whose writings many of Steven Peros’ screenplay’s best passages are founded. Also present are a hotshot producer (Cary Elwes) and various lackeys and molls. The atmosphere’s ritzily decadent but tense, with Chaplin hitting on Davies every time Hearst’s back is turned. And when hesitant lust lurches into shocking tragedy, the shallowness of showbiz ‘friendships’ is exposed.
Bogdanovich allows the inherent glamour and mythology to soak over us before playing the pay-off deadpan and letting the narcissistic characters stew. The truthful performances from the unlikely crew shape a genuine rapport. The director’s quietly aware that, dealing with “the curse of California” and a tale torn from the early drafts of Citizen Kane, he’s subtly referencing his own extraordinary life and career. The tyro who once ‘owned’ Hollywood (in 1971 his The Last Picture Show was hailed as “the most important work since Kane”), then saw his runaway train derailed by jealousy, egomania and the murder of his girlfriend, just needed to put his name to this to make muscular statements, with pathos. Bogdanovich would relish being an American life with a second act, and if there’s any justice this won’t be his last picture. The old dog’s delivered another diamond.