“Stardom”: Model behavior

Stardom

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
October 27, 2000

1 star

A model stares at the camera. She is beautiful and her expression is blank.

“It was fun,” she says of her life. “It was all fun, until it was not fun.”

For the viewer, “Stardom” is not so much fun. Denys Arcand’s documentary-style film attempts to take a satirical look at the rise and fall of a model. But the characters are so cliche-ridden and, in most cases, unbelievable, that they evoke little emotion.

Tina Menzhal is a teenage hockey player who has father issues. He smacked her around before abandoning the family, so when she dates men who abuse her, we are not surprised. Her fame begins after a local photographer snaps her on the ice. It ends up at a top modeling agency that is convinced she will be its next big star.

OK, I can buy this. Volleyball player Gabrielle Reece and pro surfer Malia Jones have parlayed their slim, athletic figures into sideline careers as models. So why not a hockey player?

The difference, though, is that because they–like most athletes–don’t share the gaunt gait of today’s most popular clothes hangers, Reece and Jones don’t do haute couture or runway shows. And as lovely as actress Jessica Pare is–and she is a dead ringer for Liv Tyler–her Tina looks more like an actress than the world’s most famous supermodel.

The fashion world is a difficult subject to parody, as Robert Altman discovered when he made the ill-fated “Ready to Wear” in 1994. How do you glamorize or satirize something that is already so over the top?

Not that Arcand doesn’t give it a shot. “Stardom” is full of parodies of pop culture icons such as CNN’s top fashionista Elsa Klensch, Charlie Rose and a sensationalistic talk show host who could only have sprung from Jerry Springer’s loins.

The modelizers also are out in full force, led by restaurateur Barry Levine (Dan Aykroyd), who leaves his wife and goes bankrupt trying to impress Tina. He is not outdone by a French photographer who talks about art as he shoots a mainstream ice cream ad campaign.

Thomas Gibson, who plays Tina’s uberagent Renny Ohayon, stands out in this mess. He is sleazy, smart, calm and conniving. He is a chameleon whose lies roll off his tongue as if they are the truth.

When nude photos of Tina appear, he troubleshoots the problem without missing a swing in his golf game. He theorizes, “If your client is a woman or a gay man, there’s a 99 percent chance that they’ve got nude photos floating around.”

Amid the busy camera work is a series of serene black and white shots that are breathtaking and, not uncoincidentally, reminiscent of a Calvin Klein fragrance ad.

But in the end, the viewer is left wondering: Is this a parable about the dangers of instant fame? Or perhaps a cautionary tale about how a parent’s abuse makes it difficult for a child to find true love?

Or maybe “Stardom” is just another casualty that proves to be less interesting that the subject it’s trying to parody.

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