There's an undeniable post-modern charm to casting Sienna Miller as Edie Sedgwick, as director George Hickenlooper has done in the feckless biopic Factory Girl: who better to embody Andy Warhol's hollow Pop muse than an individual famous essentially for being a famous person?

Tragically, post-modern charm only carries the film so far before it runs headlong into a brick wall: Miller can't act. To a certain degree, she doesn't have to, as she is playing a character whose role in life was essentially an empty vessel for Warhol's creative impulses. This more or less frees Miller from any tricky acting challenges like "having an inner life" or "emoting," but it's ultimately just part of the great sin that ends up sinking the whole damn film: it has no core.

Ostensibly, I suspect the goal was to further Warhol's own investigations into the representation of celebrity. Certainly, it feels like someone trying to evoke the famous anti-cinema aesthetic Warhol and Paul Morrissey developed in the mid-'60s. As the film progresses, Hickenlooper and cinematographer Michael Grady mix film stocks freely, without regard to narrative; their compositions are erratic and sloppy. And the story itself is basically an exploded version of Warhol's famous dictum that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.

None of it works, perhaps reflecting the fact that none of Warhol's films really work as "movies"; art pieces, sure, but there are distinct and necessary differences between how one views an art piece and how one views a narrative film, starting with the fact that Factory Girl is not being screened in galleries, but in multiplexes. Also, I think that Warhol would have had better sense to work with a screenplay like this one, written by the delightfully-pseudonymed Captain Mauzner. It's unadulterated pop-psych boilerplate.

Ultimately, this is the story of a poor little rich girl choosing between dominating male figures: the ghoulish specter of her father, "Fuzzy" Sedgwick or the emotional vampire that is Andy Warhol. Everything else spins out of that central conflict, and I would really like to know why Hollywood films keep harping on Freudian explanations for all the people who have bad lives when not one reputable psychologist actually still believes that Freud knew shit about shit, but that's a rant for another time. Today's rant is about Factory Girl, which doesn't care enough about Edie's internal being to really dig into her pain and suffering (or, for the love of God, would Sienna Miller really be here?), instead depicting a resolutely mannered exposΓ© of the Great New York Underground of 1966-1969. I don't mean to say that the film is a celebration of the drug-besotted, burnout-destined life of Warhol's artistic commune, the Factory, only that it depicts this world with the myopic zeal of the world's most fixated documentary.

I think that the biggest problem with this approach is that it has already been done to much greater success in Mary Harron's I Shot Andy Warhol from 1996. That film was about the meaning of the Factory's social structure; Factory Girl is just about the appearance. It's surface-level and glossy, and soulless.

Perhaps that's the point: in the world of this film, the Factory is itself soulless, nowhere more clearly than in the figure of Andy Warhol himself, who is described as a bloodsucker in the course of the film, and whose pale skin and hair lend him a certain vampiric air. In this script, it is clearly Warhol's lack of true affection for Edie that leads to her downfall and eventual death by overdose (pah, it's based on a true story that happened less than 40 years ago; I'm not worried about spoilers). 'tis pity that this is all entirely undone by the actual depiction of Warhol in the film, as the only complete human in a maze of ill-conceived grotesques, and that is to do entirely to the great work of Guy Pearce. His Warhol is a neurotic mess, but a neurotic mess with a sense of pain and feeling. It's not hard to see why people were attracted to him, but it ill serves the film's cautionary aim.

It also doesn't help that Warhol's chief rival for Edie's soul is the Musician, as performed by the reliably wooden Hayden Christensen. The Musician is a bald copy of Bob Dylan, who allegedly knew Sedgwick, and by "knew" I mean "biblically," and for this reason his lawyers got in the movie's face and they were forced to change the character name, by means of some truly egregious cuts and overdubs. It doesn't matter; sure, the Musician and Edie knock boots in a rather unshy scene (lit by candlelight! Aww!), but the Musician is also nothing shy of a saint in his quest to save the girl from herself. It's hagiographic, or it would be if the Musician were played by an actor who possessed something even a little bit like charisma. And that's on top of Christensen's complete inability to mimic Dylan in any but the most cartoonish way. In a film of flat performances, it's the only exceptionally bad note, and it serves to completely undercut the ostensible point of the story.

Ostensible point. The actual point, I couldn't even begin to explain. Factory Girl is really just content to toss together a whole lot of artistic stereotypes and let them sit there while it points a variety of filtered lenses at them. But it doesn't have anything to say or think about the artistic process or about celebrity. All the theme that this movie holds is extant just in the fact of Edie Sedgwick's actual life, which becomes depressingly clear during the film's credits, in its only good moment: interviews with Sedgwick's real-life acquaintences, including some who were characters in the film, remembering her life and personality as photos of Sedgwick scroll along the edge of the frame. In two minutes, the film presents a humane core that it had been incredibly eager to avoid for an hour and a half, and just a few still photographs show up the entire shimmering collage of half-baked New Wave clichΓ©s to be nothing more than a pretty face.

4/10