Belgian filmmaker Dominique Deruddere's Oscar-nominated "Everybody's Famous!" is a hearty mainstream comedy with a sharp satirical edge balanced with just enough sentimentality to send audiences home happy. Along the way, Deruddere makes clear that in today's impersonal, anonymous society, the craving for fame and fortune, fanned by the media's capacity for creating instant celebrity and wealth, has never been stronger, especially among those who've been left behind by the technological revolution.
All this remains subtext, fortunately; Deruddere is too seasoned an entertainer not to play the comedy broadly, allowing plenty of room for humor, at once affectionate yet stingingly honest, based on amusingly observed universal human foibles.
In a crass amateur competition for best impression of a famous entertainer, a pretty but plump 17-year-old high school student named Marva (Eva Van der Gucht) comes out as the sleekly glamorous Vanessa Paradis. Her wobbly singing only adds to her embarrassing performance. Her loving father, Jean (Josse De Pauw), a 45-year-old bottle-factory worker, sees in her star material, and in fact he's determined to write for her a hit song that will zoom her to the top. His wife, Chantal (Gert Portael), is a realist: After her daughter's disastrous attempt at performing as Madonna in a corset and blond wig, she tactfully suggests to Marva that she consider opera or gospel.
When Marva sings behind the scenes on weekends for a children's puppet show, free from what people might think of her appearance, she reveals an assured, beautiful voice. She may consider her father an oaf but really does want a career as a pop singer, like Belgium's current rave, the fabulous, gorgeous blue-wigged Debbie (Thekla Reuten). As Marva and her father watch Debbie performing on TV, Deruddere cuts to the pop star explaining to her shrewd, ruthless manager Michael (Victor Lw) that she thinks she would really be happier as an auto mechanic.
At this moment, very early on, Deruddere has introduced a bit of foreshadowing to a series of improbable but inspired events that, amazingly, give Marva her shot at stardom.
Deruddere's carefully character-driven plotting, marked by further deft foreshadowing, is too clever to give away. Deruddere makes implicit two timeless points in most beguiling fashion: Nobody creative gets anywhere without at some level being themselves and drawing from what they know and feel--and also without risking being foolish in the process.
Since Jean's desperation drives him to dumb, risky tactics, it's crucial that the seasoned De Pauw come across as a warm, well-meaning guy as he engages in increasingly dubious behavior. De Pauw's strong presence and comic gifts hold the film together, and he's expertly supported by Van der Gucht's resilient Marva; Werner De Smedt, as likable young sidekick Willy; and Reuten, whose Debbie proves to be a down-to-earth beauty and world-class good sport.
Providing extra punch are Lw as a classic show-biz conniver with a redeeming sense of humor and Portael as the kind of disillusioned wife whose love for her husband depends entirely upon the state of his affairs at the moment and not on what he is as man. Portael's knowing playing of Chantal is the source of the film's sharpest edges.
* MPAA rating: R, for some sexuality/nudity. Times guidelines: The sexuality and nudity are brief and discreet.
Josse De Pauw: Jean Vereecken
Werner De Smedt: Willy van Outreve
Eva Van der Gucht: Marva Vereecken
Thekla Reuten: Debbie
Victor Low: Michael Jansen
Gert Portael: Chantal Vereecken
A Miramax Films presentation of a co-production of Otomatic/Get Reel Productions/Les Films des Tournelles. Writer-director Dominique Deruddere. Producers Loret Meus, Deruddere. Cinematographer Willy Stassen. Editor Ludo Troch. Music Raymond van het Groenewoud. Costumes Loret Meus. Production designer Hubert Pouille. In Dutch, Flemish and French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
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