Famous (2021)

Less a traditional film and more an experimental project that intertwines the temperament of live theatre, Famous, from writer/director Michael Leoni, is the type of effort that once it earns an understanding from an audience is likely to be more readily accepted.

Set in the early 1990’s and seemingly framing itself around the rapid rise of success and drug-influenced surroundings of such talent as the tragically departed River Phoenix, Leoni’s film asks what is fame truly worth. It’s discussed in a more serious manner today – especially in the wake of the Time’s Up movement – but some three decades ago it was a far more undiscussed notion when looking at what young stars would do and who would take advantage of them in the name of getting a film role.

The talent at the centre of Famous is Jason Mast (Josh Pafchek), a successful young actor who is in the midst of a crisis he’s hoping is readily solved. The majority of the film’s narrative takes place during a party at his house, with various actors and industry figures moving in and out of the action akin to the fluid direction of a stage play. Featuring throughout are such archetypes as Heather (Brooke Butler), an actress who isn’t quite as established in the industry as Jason, something her cutthroat agent (Rosie De Candia) is hoping can be solved by posing the two as a couple for publicity purposes, Caley (Brinnen Thompson), the 16-year-old ingenue awaiting her big break, and Alyssa (Megan Davis), an ambitious performer who’s deciphering the best course of action to make it to the top.

Though the film certainly deserves credit for tackling industry issues without any apologies – one of the main storylines surrounds Jason’s intent on catching a predatory producer out, hoping he can save the naïve Caley from his clutches in order for her to avoid the sexual deviation that Jason evidently suffered as a younger star – the experimental approach in presenting the film as almost live theatre runs the risk of undoing a lot of its weight.

It should be commended at least that whilst Famous isn’t necessarily discussing anything new, it is doing something important by broadening the conversation around industry abuse by extending it to the fact that men are just as vulnerable as women. And not just in relation to sexual abuse either, but that body image is just as toxic and as dangerous to men and how it pertains to their status.

Due to the film’s choice to stage itself as a theatre production, I fear a lot of Famous‘ importance is undone by its unorthodox approach and, at times, exaggerated acting that is more in tune with overt theatrics than believable subtlety; De Candia’s agent being one of the main culprits of performing for the back of the room. Regardless of what does and doesn’t work stylistically, the most important takeaway is that even with all the chatter and supposed confrontations regarding #MeToo, there’s still evidently so many more conversations to be had.

Famous is available on VOD now in North America. An Australian release date is yet to be determined.

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