Held beneath a behemoth tent in a beach parking lot in Santa Monica, the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday played a dressed-down rehearsal dinner to the Oscars' formal wedding. "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy's" Carson Kressley, wearing Vans imprinted with death's heads, conducted on-air interviews with early red carpet arrivals but seemed more interested in a security guard's coral necktie.
"Let me zhoozh you," said Kressley, fluffing the tie. "Don't be afraid of color, my friend."
Coral was also the hue of Patricia Hearst's leather slingbacks and purse. Who made them? "Jimmy Choo," she said. "Very 'Serial Mom,' don't you think?"
"You didn't ask me what I'm wearing!" mock-protested Hearst's date, "Serial Mom" director John Waters (in Comme des Garcons), who was emceeing the gala, which honors the year's best independent films, for the fifth time. How would this year be different? "Well, we didn't declare war this morning, like last year," Waters said. "Then, I had to figure out how to make jokes while we were dropping bombs on Baghdad."
The hour allotted for cocktails stretched toward three, as more than a thousand guests nibbled sushi, talked shop and waited for honorary chairman Tom Cruise to arrive. Arianna Huffington did not know who made her jacket ("It's a young Italian designer," she said, and dipped her head to reveal the label at the neck: Serena Kay) but did know why she'd come. "It's a great event, and we" -- meaning herself and her date for the day, producer Lawrence Bender -- "are trying to get Hollywood -- not just Hollywood, but young Hollywood -- involved in politics, it's such a big year."
As for young Hollywood, they were out in force, many old enough to vote: Elijah Wood, Hayden Christensen, Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, Zooey Deschanel, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Sarsgaard, Jennifer Aniston, "Thirteen's" Nikki Reed and "Camp's" Anne Kendrick, all of whom were up for and/or presenting awards.
Not that one would have known by what they were wearing. It's as if the message had gone around the schoolyard: No gowns today! And no heels, and hold back your hair with a scrunchy! Even glamourpusses Naomi Watts (honored for her work in "21 Grams") and Charlize Theron (who won best female lead for "Monster") wore, respectively, a baby-doll blouse and capris, and jeans and a tank top. But perhaps Paul Giamatti, who received the second-loudest applause of the afternoon for his best male lead nomination for "American Splendor," had the biggest fashion quandary.
"The shirt is actually Prada," he said sheepishly. "The pants too. They measured me and everything, but I had to wear the jacket" -- a gunmetal-gray Dickies that gave him the aura of a filling-station attendant -- "because the pants have no pockets." He indicated a sewn-up slit near his hip. "Do you know what this is about?"
"My mom made mine," Giamatti's co-star Judah Friedlander said of his trucker cap with fake white fur and rhinestones.
Rodney Bingenheimer made a silent entrance, sipping a Perrier through a straw as he was swallowed by the crowd, whereas Shohreh Aghdashloo, nominated by both the Independent Feature Project and by the academy for her performance in "House of Sand and Fog," arrived with tears in her eyes. "I am extremely happy. It's indescribable, really," said the actress, whose ivory Valentino blouse made her hair appear blacker than any human's on the planet. "It's like a volcano, what happens inside your body, going bom bom bom bom bom."
Guests finally took their seats -- Cruise slipped in two minutes before the show went live on the Independent Film Channel, as did Sean Penn -- and while the dinners sitting on tables for two hours were summarily ignored, cameras did occasionally pick up people gnawing on chicken kebabs as winners passed on their way to the podium.
Pomp and circumstance, it seemed, were held in reserve for Sunday night. A cheering fan who pitched his script to every passing celebrity was not tossed by security; Bill Murray, whose furrowed, protean face is perhaps the best argument against cosmetic surgery, visibly winced when IFP/Los Angeles Executive Director Dawn Hudson called the coming Los Angeles Film Festival "the biggest geek-a-thon in town"; and Sofia Coppola appeared to be conserving her energy. "Thank you. I feel like a real hog," she said in a monotone after winning her second award for "Lost in Translation."
Those with less of a chance of being in the spotlight on Oscar night claimed it while they could, no one harder or to more enthusiastic applause than Juliette Lewis, whose wailing, hip-thrusting song spoofing "Raising Victor Vargas," to the tune of "Bad Case of Loving You," blew the roof off the sucker. And then it was 4 o'clock, the awards were over, and the stars were whisked away in limos, to get some beauty rest and, presumably, do something about that hair.