September 5, 2002

An Airbrushed America

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Would it be possible to completely fool America and the world? What if everyone was made to believe in something that truly was not there or real in any way? In a surprisingly realistic contemporary fairy tale, Simone will fool every audience and everyone will surely fall for the trick.

With a very strong follow-up to The Truman Show, Andrew Niccol directs (as well as writes and produces) a fantastic film and creates an excellent topic for discussion. Could a movie star actually be digitally created so that every movement seems so utterly realistic that patrons buy into her reality more than their own?

Al Pacino stars as the “human” lead, Viktor Taransky, in this modern fable. He is a washed up director and as his career is falling apart, he has become completely exhausted with the entertainment industry as well as the egos of human movie stars. He remembers the good old days, when a film was a piece of art and the actors were “his” actors.

Approached by an oh-so mysterious stranger, he comes to a needed conclusion: why deal with spoiled, bratty movie stars when you can make your own? And so Simone is introduced, a digitally-created beauty with the voice of Lauren Bacall and the charm of Marilyn Monroe. Taransky no longer has to deal with petty issues and bizarre requests by the movie stars and instead puts every word into Simone’s mouth.

As the story continues, the obvious problems arise. People want to see Simone, people want to talk to Simone, and people want to be Simone. But this film’s incredibly interesting concept conceals these very contrived details that are found in too many films these days. Full with hysterical scenes on the gullible nature of Americans and people in general, Simone is everywhere and everything with her power growing by the millisecond.

Al Pacino is Al Pacino and it is never really fair to say he did a “bad” job. But since he has done such amazing work in the past, the audience cannot help to expect a strong showing. It is possible to bank on the fact that if Al Pacino is in a film, it is bound to be good.

His acting, however, is nothing spectacular. He seemed to like his role in Insomnia so much that he just brought it along into this film as well. His acting frame of mind may have become a bit too familiar. Like Tom Cruise (playing basically the same “man against the world” character in Mission Impossible, Vanilla Sky, and Minority Report), he probably selects his films on the scripts, not on the difficulty and uniqueness of his role.

Catherine Keener co-stars as Elaine Christian, Taransky’s ex-wife slash studio executive. She plays the part well, but her recent films (such as the hilarious Full Frontal) are a much better showcase of her work.

And then there is Simone. Rumor has it that the producers and executives of this film were concealing the actress’s actual identity to add a mysterious touch to the film. The actress Rachel Roberts is clearly an angel to the eyes and a whisper in the ears. Roberts must feel quite flattered: she was selected to play the “perfect” human being with a combination of the best physical characteristics of every woman of the last century.

Winona Ryder, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, and Jay Mohr are excellent in their supporting roles, but do not forget who they are supporting. Simone is the one to steal the show, not them. And the young Evan Rachel Wood was charming as Pacino and Keener’s daughter Lainey.

But the strength of this film is the fantastic screenplay. At least in the past ten years, the best movies are the ones that introduce completely unique ideas. Think Memento, Being John Malkovich, and Pleasantville — all stories that were so fresh that movie viewers won’t forget them. Nor did the editors skimp on time, with the movie running nearly two hours without choppy story gaps.

Nowadays, when people look at magazines, they wonder do the stars honestly look like that. Are Britney’s abs really that tight? Is Gwyneth’s face really that perfect? The country we live in can be considered an “airbrushed America.” Do we ever really see the truth?

But the real question is, do we really want to? To know that Jennifer Aniston runs every morning and looks like crap does not seem to bring good thoughts to many people’s minds. So why not live in our digitally enhanced world? Because without the airbrush, they are just like us: nothing special. And who wants to worship, admire, and envy that?

Archived article by Cory Sinclair