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'Stardom': Beauty That's Skin-Deep

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 27, 2000


    'Stardom' Jessica Pare climbs the celebrity ladder in "Stardom." (Lions Gate)
At last, and just when we need it most: a Canadian movie that stinks.

"Stardom," by the brilliant Denys ("Jesus of Montreal") Arcand, just bites. Purportedly an ironic documentary on the life of a Canadian country girl who becomes a supermodel, it's obvious, trite, shallow and far too shocked at things about which it's pointless to be shocked.

The inspirations, I suppose, are John Schlesinger's far superior "Darling," which chronicled the rise of a beautiful young woman (Julie Christie) in London in the '60s or, even further back, Ring Lardner's "Champion," which was made into a terrific film with Kirk Douglas as a ruthlessly amoral and ambitious fighter. (It made him a star, too.)

"Stardom" is unlikely to be so kind to Jessica Pare. She's a beautiful woman who easily passes as a supermodel, and an actress who seems authentic in the film's intimate, realistic moments as well. But Arcand follows the mock-documentary format so assiduously it gets in the way; the movie is entirely made up of artificially manufactured news snippets, and it's too full of what are technically called "unreliable narrators" – reporters who are clueless as to the true nature of Pare's Tina Menzhal.

As a jock, she's noticed by a photog covering women's hockey. He sells her to an agency, which makes her a star in Canada; she betrays them to move to New York and Paris, her rise being chronicled all the way by breathless Leeza Gibbons types.

The device wears even thinner when she becomes the subject of a documentary made by a British photographer who ultimately becomes all but invisible to her and thus acquires an intimacy that's hard to believe. He's the one who tells us the truth.

We get that she's a little promiscuous – one man, one woman seems a rigid structure to her – and that she's not much in the caring department, particularly for former mentors.

So what's the point? Gee, if you have a world-class gift, of talent or beauty or coordination, I guess you're supposed to stay stuck in your little town so that your little-town friends won't get those little-town blues. I'm sitting in a roomful of people who worked like hell to get out of the little towns they came from and get here for all the bigger and better things they could earn. In fact, that's exactly what this city is about. Reality check, folks: All talented people use people to get to the next level. Maybe it's wrong, but it's also forever.

Dan Aykroyd has a hammy part as a restaurateur, and Frank Langella is equally hammy as an oily aristocrat who thinks he can tame the beauty but only unleashes his inner beast. The slickest and most convincing performance is turned in by "Dharma and Greg's" Thomas Gibson, who plays Tina's ultimate agent.

But "Stardom" tells us nothing we didn't already know, and it tells it over and over and over.

"Stardom" (103 minutes, at the Cineplex Odeon Janus 3) is rated R for violence, drug use, profanity and emotional intensity.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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