Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"There’s a lot of big drama and not so much of the subtler stuff which might help viewers to feel connected."

What is fame worth? When you’re a starry-eyed kid, it’s easy to persuade yourself that you’d do anything for a shot at the big time. It’s hardly a revelatory to an adult audience that there are unscrupulous adults ready to take advantage of that, but we talk about it now in a way that we didn’t in the early Nineties. That’s when Famous is set, bringing together elements of real life stories in the tale of Jason Mast (Josh Pafchek), a successful young actor who has had to pay an awful price and is looking for a solution.

The story takes place during a party one night at Jason’s house, attended by various industry figures. There’s Heather (Brooke Butler), a successful but still not very well established actress whose agent (Rosie De Candia) wants her and Jason to become, or at least look like, a couple, for publicity purposes. There’s Dylan (Cole Pendery), Jason’s brother and a former star who decided the price was too high. There’s Megan (Alyssa Rossi), an ambitious young star trying to find her own route to the top; and there’s Caley (Brinnen Thompson), a shy 16-year-old yet to get her big break. There’s also much older producer Jack (Gregory DePetro), with whom several of those present have had run-ins before. The atmosphere changes the moment he enters, with other characters, despite having their own dramas to deal with, doing their best to keep him from getting Caley alone.

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An experimental project which brings together film and theatre, Famous was shot live on stage. The cleverly designed set centres on Jason’s living room but contains several other spaces, with audience attention moved between them by means of lighting. There’s an outdoor space, a bathroom and several bedrooms, one of which contains a computer. From this, Jason can see everything else that’s happening in the house through hidden cameras – as long as he’s paying attention. It gradually becomes apparent that this isn’t just any old social event. It’s one where he hopes to capture proof of Jack doing to somebody else what he and others did to him (Jason) as a boy, finally creating some hope of justice.

There’s a fair bit of sparring and backstabbing here between young people whose potential friendships are tempered by professional rivalry – making them easier prey. There’s also constant bullying from agents and from parents (in flashback scenes). Alcohol and cocaine are consumed in quantity, leading to outbursts of rage from those whose tempers are already volatile as a consequence of past abuse. Most of the abuse itself is implied rather than shown directly, but there are still a couple of scenes towards the end which viewers may find distressing, especially if they have had similar experiences themselves.

One of the things that abuse does is to leave many of its victims angry, defensive and somewhat anti-social – qualities which lead to them being considered poor witnesses if they try to take legal action, and qualities often associated with Hollywood brats. Many of the characters here are difficult to like and you might not really want to spend time with them, but of course that doesn’t mean that their stories don’t matter. The actors do their best to generate sympathy for one another’s characters if not just for their own, but they’re hampered by the fact that, suffering aside, these roles are rather thinly written, making it difficult for us to invest in them as people. As such, there’s a lot of big drama and not so much of the subtler stuff which might help viewers to feel connected.

Famous is a film with plenty of cleverness but not a lot of depth, borrowing its emotional weight from elsewhere. Butler is good, exercising more restraint than the others and making her character feel like a human being, but she can’t carry it on her own. There’s not a great deal said here that hasn’t been said many times in other pieces of art, and often with more skill, but Famous does do something important by helping to broaden the conversation and emphasise that young men as well as young women have been victims. it also points up the damage done by non-sexual forms of abuse, by constant pressure placed upon young people who have no tools with which to defend themselves. There’s some particularly poignant material addressing Hollywood body image issues and the connection between abuse and eating disorders.

Overall this film is a bit hit and miss. It doesn’t achieve the gravity it strives for but it does keep the conversation going, and it’s nicely constructed. One hopes that it will leave viewers a little less keen to assume the worst about badly behaved young stars, and a little more sympatic regarding what they have to deal with, because despite all the confrontations around #MeToo, the problem has not gone away.

Reviewed on: 09 Dec 2021
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Famous packshot
An A-list celebrity is confronted about his past in a story filmed live on stage.
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Director: Michael Leoni

Writer: Michael Leoni

Starring: Chris Kattan, Brooke Butler, Megan Davis, CJ Valleroy, Kenny Johnston, Rosie de Candia

Year: 2021

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: US


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