Becoming Iconic


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Becoming Iconic
"It's refreshing to see such a positive take from a newcomer."

Meritocracy is a great idea in principle. In practice, it doesn't always generate what people expect. Evolution doesn't favour animals - it favours their DNA. Capitalism doesn't favour workers - it favours money. In both cases this can happen at the expense of the individual. So ask yourself, what does the competition in Hollywood favour?

Though he may not have a clear idea of the answer to that question, director Jonathan Baker knows he wants to make it to the top. He wants to be rich. He wants to be famous. He wants to articulate his vision, though we learn rather less here about what that vision is. This documentary tells the story of his efforts to make his first film, Inconceivable. It looks at the challenges of making things happen in a studio system where investors naturally look for safe bets, but it also looks at mentorship and the willingness of established talent - on both side of the camera - to teach, encourage and support those who are on their way up.

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At a time when the Harvey Weinstein scandal and subsequent revelations about famous figures have increased public cynicism about the industry as a whole, it's refreshing to see such a positive take from a newcomer. Baker, whose constant assurances about his own talent suggest he's rather less confident than he claims, makes much of the support he has received from Warren Beatty, and stresses the significance of having somebody who believes in one's potential.

There's a strong contribution from Jodie Foster, who admits that she took a while to recognise directing as an option because it seemed to be only men who did it; it's a shame that she's the only major female contributor here, especially as Baker emphasises his commitment to foregrounding women (which he did in his feature). Adrian Lyne has some valuable things to say and his laid back, thoughtful approach makes a change from some of the egotism on display. John Badham compares directing for the first time to having sex for the first time, suggesting that it takes a while to figure out which bits go where, but apparently fails to consider that both sex and film can be more interesting when they don't follow an approved formula.

Unfortunately, whilst Baker's determination to do everything himself if he can't find people who will do it his way may have helped him to get his feature made, it serves him rather less well here. He dominates the film - Neal Thibedeau doing little to assert control - to the point where far too much of it is about him, too little about his learning experience or those who have something to teach. The editing is poor and several sections are repeated in a way that diminishes rather than enhances the overall production.

Baker seems determined to proclaim his genius to a world that has not as yet seen evidence of it, and Hollywood is littered with fallen stars who can testify to the folly of his claim that one only has to achieve success once. He has a certain puppyish enthusiasm and one can see how it has endeared him to the likes of Beatty and Nicolas Cage, but the lengthy passages of talking about how brilliant or wacky or generally deserving he is really don't flatter him, and do a disservice to the talent that he does possess.

If Baker does succeed in becoming an icon, this film may come to have historical value, but at that point the chances are that he'll want to prune it severely. At it is, it has some interesting content but requires a patient viewer.

Reviewed on: 02 Dec 2017
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A documentary about the making of Inconceivable, with input from the established Hollywood players who gave its director advice.

Director: Neal Thibedeau

Starring: Jonathan Baker, Jodie Foster, Nicolas Cage, Faye Dunaway, Adrian Lyne, Warren Beatty, Taylor Hackford, John Badham

Year: 2018

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


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