Tom DiCillo's "Delirious," a fractured fairy tale of lost innocents finding and losing one another in a world bordered by paparazzi, reality television and MTV, skewers the celebrity subculture while deftly portraying an unusual friendship. A story peopled by flawed archetypes, it's an achingly funny film that is also a little sad around the edges.
The glamorous and isolated lives of the famous are refracted through the jaundiced eyes of "licensed professional" Les Galantine. Played by the always compelling Steve Buscemi, Les is a photographer whose inner love-hate relationship is fueled by his occupation, stalking celebrities, hoarding goody bags and feeding at the trough of benefit buffets. A thematic follow-up of sorts to DiCillo's 1994 "Living in Oblivion," which starred Buscemi as an indie film director pushed to the edge, "Delirious" possesses similarly wicked humor and dead-on satirical elements.
Les is a fringe paparazzo with pipe-dream ambitions. He befriends Toby (the otherworldly Michael Pitt), a homeless kid with equally vague notions of being an actor. Les "hires" Toby to be his assistant and lets him sleep in a closet in his apartment but doesn't actually pay him other than to toss off homilies that begin, "Rule No. 1. . . ."
Toby briefly falls under the spell of Les' hustler sensibilities and buys into his spiel before being sucked into the orbit of pop star K'Harma (Alison Lohman), an emotional train wreck in the vein of Britney or Lindsay.
Les boasts of possessing "a laser eye" with a camera but confides to Toby that "sometimes I see too much." Their twisted friendship is evocative of "Midnight Cowboy" (which DiCillo cites as an influence), and Pitt and Buscemi bear an amusing resemblance to that film's Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). Although Les ostensibly tries to mentor Toby while exploiting him, Toby is the wiser soul.
The characters are cracked mirror images of each other, with Toby being not quite the innocent he appears (though remaining true of heart) and Les experiencing bursts of generosity that punctuate his misanthropy. Buscemi is expert at generating empathy for someone who is mostly belligerent and selfish, turning vulnerable in the blink of an eye.
DiCillo also cultivates spot-on performances from Gina Gershon as a casting director- manager-publicist and Callie Thorne and David Wain as K'Harma's "people."
There's a beautiful, exuberant three-minute sequence at the beginning of the film featuring Pitt hustling to survive around Times Square set to the Dandy Warhols' "Bohemian Like You." It creates a tone for the movie that is both enchanted and emotionally raw and establishes a realm that is pure fantasy and yet all too real.
"Delirious." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741; Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd. (323) 848-3500; and Laemmle's Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena (626) 844-6500.