Factory Girl suffers from flawed script
Director George Hickenlooper’s biopic Factory Girl documents the rise and fall of the iconic Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick played by Sienna Miller (Casanova). The film follows Sedgwick from her beginnings as a sculptress at Harvard through her heyday as a Factory celebrity, and up to her untimely death at the age of 28. Though many parts of the film are fictionalized, several scenes featuring Sedgwick and Warhol, played by an unnervingly odd Guy Pearce (Memento), contain dialogue based upon actual phone conversations and audio footage that Warhol accumulated throughout his career.
Sienna Miller — who prepared for the role by studying hours of footage taken from Sedgwick’s short-lived film career — seamlessly portrays Sedgwick, from her speech patterns to her characteristic swan-like movements. However, Miller’s noticeable effort taints her performance, and an hour into the film moviegoers lose patience and remember that she has yet to make a high-grossing or critically acclaimed film. Although Miller’s every choice as an actress is evident in her rendering of Sedgwick, Miller’s specificity detracts interest from the fascinating socialite she plays. Technically precise, Sienna Miller’s performance ultimately falls short of spellbinding.
Many Andy Warhol enthusiasts may find Guy Pearce’s rendition of the artist strange and disappointing. Like Miller, Pearce captures Warhol’s peculiarities, namely his lazy drawl, short attention span, and hardly charming capriciousness, but fails to intrigue the audience. Pearce’s overworked interpretation barely exposes the layers beneath Warhol’s captivating exterior, and the overall performance comes off as forcefully indirect and unnatural.
Another insufficiently explored character is the folk singer played by Hayden Christensen (Star Wars). Though never specified, Christensen’s character clearly alludes to Bob Dylan, who basked in a brief flirtation with Sedgwick before leaving her to marry another woman. This scandal forms the basis for the film’s most traumatic scene, the boisterous argument between a highly intoxicated Sedgwick and an apathetic Warhol in a New York City restaurant, a scuffle that ended their infamous comradeship. Here, Miller plays a battered, hopeless, drug-addicted Sedgwick at the lowest point of her burnout. Following this scene, the remainder of the movie plays like a poorly fabricated documentary about an era in pop culture so influential and compelling that only the most multidimensional and experienced actors could convincingly reenact it.
Factory Girl’s most damning flaw is the factuality that Hickenlooper (Dogtown) overlooks in structuring the film. The screenplay shifts between Sedgwick’s Factory days to the end of the era, when Sedgwick is committed to yet another rehabilitation facility. Instead of the incoherent and distant Edie Sedgwick featured in 1972’s Ciao, Manhattan!, her unfinished, semi-autobiographical film, the post-Factory scenes in Factory Girl show a vivacious, optimistic, and presumably drug-free Sedgwick. Aside from this technical error, the filmmakers’ creative choices and the sub-par screenplay elicited some harsh criticism. In an article for the New York Daily News, Lou Reed described the script as “one of the most disgusting, foul things I’ve seen ... in a long time.” Incensed by Christensen’s inaccurate portrayal, Bob Dylan threatened to sue the filmmakers.
Barely crossing the $1.6 million mark in domestic ticket sales, Factory Girl is neither a financial nor an artistic triumph, though it could easily be Sienna Miller’s magnum opus. The casting eludes all cinematographic logic, with Jimmy Fallon playing Sedgwick’s pal Chuck Wein, Mena Suvari appearing as Richie Berlin (who in fact was not part of Warhol’s entourage of superstars), and an uncredited Mary-Kate Olsen attempting to fit into the glitterati of a Factory party scene. Though Miller upstages the rest of the cast as an effervescent, alluring, and eventually vulnerable Edie Sedgwick, Factory Girl sparkles on screen for but a short time until it fizzles into cutting-room-floor oblivion.