Letter From Cannes

A Splash in the Fishbowl, Complete With Yacht

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 20, 2007

CANNES, France -- Down along the quay behind the Palais they berth the superyachts, and these mega-babies are some serious toys. Each year for the film festival, the harbor and bay fill with private Love Boats, floating pamper palaces for plutocrats, and for hosting intimate sales fetes for special buyers and movie investors. Their home ports tell the story: Most of the boats are registered in tax havens. They do the circuit. Summer in the Med. Winter in the Carib. A weeklong fully crewed charter for eight guests? It'll set you back a cool $100,000, gratuities not included.

So naturally, this is where Jessica Simpson, the queen of Abilene, is "hosting" a party for her new (unmade) film, "Major Movie Star," aboard the 150-footer called Perfect Persuasion out of George Town (the one in the Cayman Islands), and naturally the party is being co-hosted by the king of beers, which would be Budweiser.

Pre-arrival. On the dock, they've arranged a short runner of red carpet, only about 10 feet long, which seems about right for Jess. Of course, there are velvet ropes. It must be so. The press hover and jostle and the Euros rapid-smoke, that quickened huffpuffhuffpuff. The publicist for the event strolls down the cattle shoot and warns everyone, "She'll talk about Cannes, the movie, and Cannes. No questions about her personal life." This is funny, because Simpson, who became famous for a MTV reality show about her married life with what's-his-name, seems to have no personal life, you know? Like, on purpose?

Though there's not yet a movie, there is a movie poster, which depicts Simpson in camo bikini, flashing a peace sign, while behind her it looks like the beach from "Apocalypse Now" where Robert Duvall and the air-cav come thundering down to lay waste upon the Viet Cong in that "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" scene to the wailing soundtrack of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries."

And finally, she arrives, and of course nobody really cares about her movie, which is a retread of "Private Benjamin," because as the gossip sites have just informed us, she and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter-guitarist John Mayer are living separately now in a town called Splitsville. Spoiler alert: We have no new news to offer here as Simpson keeps repeating that "I want to keep my private life private. But I'm very happy."

She looks . . . How do you describe it? Fantastic if we were peering through a camera lens? In Jimmy Choo shoes, bedecked in Bulgari jewelry, vacuum-packed into an off-the-shoulder blue vintage dress. In person? It appears that her stylist Ken Paves has spent simply hours on his canvas. Standing for the photographers by her poster, she snugs up her dress top, settling the twins down for the night in their sequined crib, and gushes, "Hey, I'm trying to be a major movie star here!"

Ready, set, go. Killer smile. Popopopopop! Flashes. "Jessica, Jessica, over your shoulder here, love! Over your shoulder here, sweetheart" (We feel the monkey paws of the shooters on our backs pushing us out of the way, toward the funky port water).

So. This is what we heard: "I feel like my whole life is under the microscope," she says. "I grew up under this glass, in this fishbowl." Asked about her private life, she says, "I try not to read too much about that stuff." She says she wanted to look glamorous tonight. She's been doing lots of push-ups. Her role models are Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn. She is blonde again (almost). "I was a brunette yesterday," Simpson says.

About her character in the movie: The character is an actress (don't be catty). "She wants to be respected. But she always gets these blond bimbo parts. She doesn't want this life anymore," says our Jess. So, naturally, she enlists in the Marines. But wait! Being a Marine is hard. But our gal overcomes adversities and etc. etc. "I try to be the best that I can be," Simpson explains, and really, can you ask for anything more?

We quiz, so this is a movie for our boys in Iraq? Totally. She mentions her work with the USO, her trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Iraq, which is actually more than most Americans have done. Her feelings about the current war? "I will not comment on that," she says, except to say she is 100 percent behind the troops.

And then she is whisked up the gangplank into the Bud Boat, along with her father/producer/spin doctor Joe Simpson, and we surrender our shoes and follow behind. The yacht? A monster. Four floors. There is a library, with fake books. Several bars (guests have curiously switched from Bud Lites to French champagne). Red marble in the toilets. A kitchen that you could shoot an Emeril Lagasse show in. A stateroom worthy of James Bond. All very "Octopussy."

Alas, we spot no other celebrities. Simpson spends the next hour working for a living, schmoozing international distributors and financiers, who all want their pictures taken with their major movie star. Two female guests inform us that several of the film-buyer money-types from South American countries have had a lot to drink and have a tendency to grope. We cannot confirm this. The night goes on. The ship, with a hundred guests aboard, is distinctly rolling port to starboard.

Though no one actually hurls. Not yet.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company