Monday, February 27, 2012
NECROPHILIAC CHIC: A review of DROP DEAD GORGEOUS
Meet Cynthia Barris. She is a hot, up-and-coming model, and she has just booked the shoot of her life: Claudio, the most controversial fashion designer in LA, wants her to pose for his new release, and a documentary director wants to cover the whole thing, from the start of her day till the end of the shoot. Everyone stands to make a lot of money, especially Cynthia’s greasy, underhanded manager.
Everything starts off pretty well. Cynthia hits all of her marks, and Claudio is impressed with how things are going. The photographer, Phillipe, an odd bird who likes to wear pajamas everywhere he goes (except he never sleeps in them), especially to shoots, where he likes to get naked so he can capture the perfect deer-in-the-headlights look that so many people think is so hot, is reveling in the job. Even Peter, the documentary director, is having a blast getting it all on film for posterity.
And then Cynthia dies of a freak overdose in the middle of getting her picture taken. Oops! Claudio stands to lose billions of dollars (to say nothing of the financial loss of everyone else), so they come up with a plan: keep shooting her. So the model dies? So what? Does that have to stop the photo shoot?
Ivy Levan has the hardest role in this film as poor Cynthia, or more to the point, Cynthia’s body. For more than half of the movie, she has to play like she’s Bernie from WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S. She does an excellent job of portraying not just a hunk of meat about to start rotting, but a beautiful hunk of meat about to start rotting. She isn’t afraid to tackle some of the more difficult scenes, like when a reluctant costumer has to struggle to get Cynthia into her underpants. Or when the slimy drug dealer/jack of all trades sets her up in various contraptions to make her look like she’s still alive. Or even the scene where gas builds up in her, so they have to . . . SQUEEZE IT OUT OF HER. This, of course, leads to one of the funniest fart scenes in cinematic history.
Steven Berkoff puts in a wonderful performance as Claudio, who is absolutely insane with ego. When we first meet him, he’s going on and on about how people worship at his temple because he knows how to make everyone beautiful. And when Cynthia dies on set, he gets angry with her, thinking she’s asleep. When someone finally mentions that she’s dead, he asks the person if she’s a doctor. Answered in the negative, he responds, “Then how do you know?” He then offers to fly in a doctor to make sure . . . from Paris.
When you get right down to it, there isn’t a likable character in the cast. They’re all scumbags looking out for numero uno. Jeremy London, who plays Cynthia's manager, seeks out every way he can make money out of a situation. He even offers to take care of Cynthia’s body overnight for the second day of the shoot by taking her back to his place and keeping her in a tub of ice. (This doesn’t work out quite so well. He has to drive her back the next day, but she’s too stiff, so he ties her to the roof of the car like a Christmas tree.)
The only one of the cast who puts forth an effort to be humane is the sound chick for the documentary director, and in the end, it’s pretty clear that she has her own reasons for doing so. Even the director himself sells himself out in the act of encouraging Claudio's audacious scheme, all in the name of getting good footage.
All of these performers are the perfect vehicles for Philip Alderton’s script. He covers the LA modeling scene so well, and even though he uses all of these characters to lampoon that world, going so close to over the top that they almost become parodies of themselves, there are times when they have stark moments of truth. Phillipe, in one of these moments, just comes out and says, “This industry is about sex.” He says that if they started using thicker models, regular people would start complaining about them being too fat to grace, say, an advertisement.
The only problem with this movie is the style. It’s the dark comedy equivalent of horror’s found footage subgenre. They’re trying to sell this to us as a true story, that this is the actual footage that everyone thought had been destroyed. Yet . . . in the movie itself, the story came out anyway. So why was the footage supposedly destroyed? Claudio's ego is so fucking huge that he told the world Cynthia was dead and all of those pictures were of her corpse. If you’re going to try to trick your audience into believing something like this, perhaps you shouldn’t go quite so big.
We recognize some of these actors. We know that Claudio doesn’t really exist. We know that no such story ever came out. Found footage movies rarely work; the thing that’s supposed to make them work is if the audience buys into the story. With DROP DEAD GORGEOUS, that’s impossible. TMZ and E! would have been all over this in real life.
Once you get past that supremely stupid blunder, the movie is really amazing, and it says a lot about not fame, as one would think (although it mentions a few things about fame), but about the world of fashion, about what they sell and how they sell it and how far they’d go to sell it. Don’t miss this excellent dark comedy.
DROP DEAD GORGEOUS
Written and directed by Philip Alderton
Produced by Phase 4 Films