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Sharp 'Ellie Parker' not just another L.A. story

Five years in the making, Scott Coffey's labor of love with Naomi Watts is a fresh take on the plight of a struggling actress.

November 11, 2005|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Five years ago, actor-director Scott Coffey shot a 16-millimeter film with Naomi Watts in which she plays an aspiring actress struggling to hold on to her sense of identity as she hurtles from one audition to the next. They then developed it into a feature-length film, "Ellie Parker," shot on a digital camera, over the next four years. During that time, Watts has achieved the recognition that proves so elusive to Ellie.

"Ellie Parker" is a funny, fractured valentine, celebrating the incandescence of Watts' blond beauty and shimmering talent. Ellie's story is as old as Hollywood, but Coffey brings to it a fresh, frenzied and often painfully raw vision in which Ellie begins to feel that her personality is as fragmented as life in Los Angeles can be. Ellie encounters a few kind souls, but mainly she runs up against that impersonal quality that characterizes many L.A. people and places. "Ellie Parker" is at once hilarious and harrowing, and in being so, seems right on target.

Ellie has a high-intensity personality, and her readings for the heroine of a dreadful Civil War saga and for a junkie prostitute, another trite part, bring to them a passion and conviction beyond what they deserve. In the meantime, she catches her rock-star boyfriend (Mark Pellegrino) two-timing her, seeks shelter with her seemingly more stable actress pal (Rebecca Rigg), with whom she attends an acting class that seems more like primal scream therapy, and has an encounter with an aspiring cinematographer (Coffey).

And when she tells her wise and sympathetic agent (Chevy Chase, in a nifty change of pace) that she wants to quit acting, she's taken aback when he doesn't try to talk her out of it. The people and events in Ellie's life conspire to isolate her as she strives to get a grip on herself and her life. There's an honesty, as painful as it is comical, about Ellie and her story that lingers long after the lights go up.

*

'Ellie Parker'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Language, some drugs, adult themes

A Strand Releasing presentation. Writer-director Scott Coffey. Producers Naomi Watts, Coffey. Cinematographers Coffey, Blair Mastbaum. Editors Matt Chesse and Catherine Hollander. Original songs written by Neil Jackson and performed by Built Like Alaska. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Exclusively at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500; the Playhouse 7, 673 Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; and the Park Place 10, Jamboree Boulevard at Michelson, Irvine, (800) FANDANGO 142#.

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