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Cinema Signal:

An Actor-Friendly Guide

Ellie Parker
The poster

. "Ellie Parker"

This film is astounding. If not for a revelation of the trials actors go through to get work, certainly in demonstrating how many things a person can do while driving. Not necessarily safely, mind, so we don't recommend you try what Naomi Watts pulls off so adeptly in her whirlwind drive around the hills and studios of Hollywood for auditions.

As Ellie Parker, she's not so different from hundreds --perhaps thousands-- of actors of both genders running around for auditions that agents send them out on, all eager to show how capable they are for a particular part, to add their own interpretation to a role. As Ellie does so smartly here, they dress and make themselves up to suggest the character for the benefit of the director, producer, casting director "seeing" them in the role... so long as they know what they're going up for in advance, which is not always the case.

It's a bit of a hoot to see Naomi Watts at this stage, because she actually was an auditioning actress when this film was being made as a no-budget short. It was just about simultaneous, in odd fact, that she did her famous and mesmerizing audition scene in "Mulholland Drive," probably the seminal moment of her career, one that informed the industry she was trying to break into just why she should be allowed to.

She has since more than lived up to that potential many times, notably in "21 Grams" and "The Ring." Naomi Watts has a rare genius for becoming her role in a field where most actors get by on applying their inherent personality and individual quality to the role. Just a handful of very creative actors, people capable of acting immersion, of personality transformation, exist. Merrill Streep, Nicole Kidman, Maria Bello, you can count Watts' few companions in this ability on the fingers of one hand. These people surprise us when they appear as themselves in interviews.

The application of this to something so close to who she is and what she's experiencing is the sum total of value in Scott Coffey's re-creation of it. It shows a bit of the technique and the illusion of the craft, and a lot of the angst that's both the driving force and very often the psyche-damaging factor of the effort. Parker has a need for a home base, but realizes her boyfriend Justin (Mark Pellegrino) is a limited schmoe she once thought exciting because he's a musician but now can't stand his idiotic music and brute manner.

She romps around Hollywood from audition date to audition date, changing makeup in the car, practicing lines, chatting on the phone, redoing her hair, even changing into wardrobe suitable to the part that she probably rented. The pragmatic nature of this life in a car is hilarious, dangerous as hell, and true.

She fills her social need between men and casting tryouts with Sam (Rebecca Rigg), another actress who is her close friend, and confidant. She tries a new fling with Chris (Scott Coffey) who isn't a match for her in any way. Chevy Chase as her manager Dennis gives us a feel for a relationship that's part of every actor's life and an essential key to turning the craft into a living. She barges her way into his office to tell him she's giving up acting. Right. Doing such a thing for most actors is like a junkie swearing off a drug. It'll last until the next phone call.

Director Coffey originally made his modest short as a directing debut with a talent that he may have known to be a class A performer and shot it as a 17 minute short for its world premiere at the 2001 Sundance film Festival. Great response led to expanding the idea into 3 more shorts that enabled the pair to explore the character and provide more dimension to her life. Then, his star was discovered by the world, allowing Watts and Coffey to release the movie of Ellie Parker as a feature. Talk about blurring the lines between reality and fiction!

While digital video of such poor quality is hardly the stuff big Hollywood dreams are ideally recorded on, Coffey's use of a Sony Mini DV camera does, indeed, impart a voyeuristic intimacy that would have been less so with a Panavision camera and a traditional approach. It proves that, when it comes right down to what's really important in a film, the content and talent trump image quality.

A created film illusion has never been so representative of simultaneous reality than this little "inside" drama producing an "amazement" factor. It's an almost-documentary of an actual about-to-be-a-star's reality. The making of the film becomes an added revelation of the fiction within it -- a once-in-a-lifetime conspiracy between creativity, concept and timing. Talk about blurring the lines between reality and fiction!

If this all reads like a paeon to the actress, that's because it is, and so is the film. As Ellie Parker, she's not even acting. She's channelling... herself. At the same times she's imparting insight into the very real struggle of an actor's dedication and "process". It will tell every other actor striving on the streets of Hollywood, reading their trades, changing their agents, something that might not be as vividly meaningful to the rest of us: that talent wins. Sometimes very big.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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