'Factory Girl' grinds the Sedgwick story into cliche
"Factory Girl" is not, strictly speaking, a bad movie. It's something worse: an irredeemably banal drama about some of the most protean, contradictory creative forces of the 1960s. Director George Hickenlooper and his writing team take the story of Edie Sedgwick -- Warhol muse, Vogue's "youthquaker of 1965," speed freak, poor little rich girl, corpse -- and somehow manage to make it conventional. That's the first 45 minutes. Then the movie turns offensive.
You can't fault Sienna Miller, the British actress and minor gossip column fixture who plays Edie from her Cambridge art school days all the way to the final burn-out. Miller's pretty and quick, and so she gets some of the unearthly charisma you glimpse in old footage of Sedgwick. Guy Pearce makes an acceptable Andy Warhol, too, before the movie turns him into a vampire. A lost boy and a user under the white fright wig, he doesn't want to hang out with Edie so much as be her. Truman Capote had to invent his Holly Golightly; Andy has his presented to him like Venus on an ashtray.
For a while, "Factory Girl" is a buddy picture, with the rest of the Warhol Factory irregulars haunting the fringes: Tara Summers as feral Brigid Polk , Mena Suvari as her sister Richie Berlin , Armin Amiri as Ondine , Jack Huston as Gerard Malanga , Jimmy Fallon in a peg-button coat as Chuck Wein . In the background mill Illeana Douglas as Diana Vreeland , Beth Grant (the mean beauty-pageant lady in "Little Miss Sunshine") as Warhol's Polish-immigrant mother, Weezer's Brian Bell as Lou Reed .
None of which prepares you for Bob Dylan as played by the young Darth Vader. Whatever Dylan and Edie had going back then has always been a matter of conjecture -- he has always denied there was a relationship and recently threatened to sue the producers of "Factory Girl" on grounds of defamation (some discreet editing seems to have resolved the matter). At the very least he wrote "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat" and maybe "Just Like a Woman" about her; at the most, well, who knows?
Apparently, the makers of this movie. "Factory Girl" rushes fearlessly into the valley of daytime soaps with its imagined depiction of the struggle for Edie's soul. On one side is Andy: cruel, distanced, gay, refusing to pay for her drugs. On the other is sensitive "Billy Quinn" (Hayden Christensen), who takes long motorcycle rides in the country with her and who urges Edie to get real. He's about something, he luuuves her, he's good in bed. Yes, "Factory Girl" gives us a rhapsodic soft-focus sex scene between the faux-Dylan and Edie. This is pure kitsch, a moment that feels wrong on every conceivable dramatic and cultural level. It's like seeing Rosa Parks naked.
Christensen looks surprisingly like Dylan '65, and his voice strains for an insolent drawl -- he probably thinks he's giving a pretty good performance. Some public figures are such singularities, though, that they can't be "acted," and Dylan's one of them. (Queen Elizabeth II, surprisingly, isn't.) I'm not saying Dylan shouldn't be played by an actor, just that it's a losing battle (unless you assign seven actors to play him, as director Todd Haynes is doing in the upcoming "I'm Not There").
"Factory Girl," meanwhile, watches Edie spiral down into wretched, caterwauling addiction, abandoned by coldhearted parents, friends, the Factory, even Quinn. No Chelsea Hotel cliche is left unturned.
Emerging from the film in a blue funk, I stopped at a video store and rented "Ciao! Manhattan," the only commercially released movie Se d gwick appeared in. The black-and-white scenes were filmed in New York during the mid- ' 60s, when Edie was at her mayfly zenith; the rest is from 1970, in color, in Santa Barbara, when she was a drugged-out shambles. The movie exploits her horrifically but it also musters a twisted and genuine sympathy, and in the early scenes the real Edie is so electric she makes Sienna Miller look like a nun. She was the Warhol moment and she was the chief casualty of that moment. "Factory Girl" just says she chose the wrong guy.