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MOVIE REVIEW

A mixed bag of `Hollywood Dreams'

May 18, 2007|Lael Loewenstein | Special to The Times

In "Hollywood Dreams" an aspiring actress seeks stardom, finding rejection, romance, publicity and personal epiphanies along the way. It's the Hollywood fantasy seen through the eyes of writer-director Henry Jaglom, and it's a very mixed bag. When it's good, "Hollywood Dreams" is corrosively funny and unexpectedly poignant. And when it's bad, it's over-the-top bad.

"Hollywood Dreams" opens with an audition scene: Margie Chizek (Tanna Frederick) reads for an off-camera director, and within minutes she swings from sobbing, self-doubting ingenue to dogged thespian. You immediately know you're in Jaglom territory, since female emotional nakedness is a specialty of the director ("Eating," "Babyfever").

The opening scenes hastily establish Margie's psychological fragility. Desperate to be Hollywood thin, the Iowa-raised Margie is a bulemic who talks herself through one calamity after another. The most hilarious occurs when Margie volunteers for a kids' home video project (staged by Jaglom's own children) but is quickly fired for insubordination.

Rescued by manager-producer Kaz Naiman (Jaglom regular Zack Norman) after a chance encounter, Margie is invited by Kaz and his partner, Caesar (David Proval), to live in their guesthouse. Her new roommate, Robin (Justin Kirk), an actor, is a heterosexual pretending to be gay. In the film's most affecting interlude, Margie's Aunt Bee (a terrific Melissa Leo) comes to visit. One particular conversation with her niece reveals the girl's troubled past, hinting at the layers of self-delusion and denial behind Margie's extreme volatility. It's scenes like this one that show the film's potential to attain credible emotional truth; what's maddening is that it rarely does.

Mostly, this is Frederick's movie, and reactions to "Hollywood Dreams" will depend largely on what one thinks of her performance. A bizarre blend of goofiness and lethal ambition, her Margie is Fanny Brice crossed with Eve Harrington. Frederick gives the part everything she has; one wishes she would give it a bit less. We're meant to find her quirks charming, not abrasive and obnoxious..

Just as Frederick could have used some stiffer directorial cues, "Hollywood Dreams" would have benefited from a less indulgent editor than Jaglom. Better pruning and different choices might have helped to shape the film into a more cohesive piece, instead of one -- like its leading lady -- so desperate to be funny that it sacrifices its honesty.

"Hollywood Dreams." MPAA rating: R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. In selected theaters.

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