|Steve Buscemi||Les Galantine|
|Michael Pitt||Toby Grace|
|Alison Lohman||K'Harma Leeds|
|Directed by||Tom DiCillo|
Tom DiCillo, whose Living in Oblivion (1995) is one of the best movies ever made about the making of an independent movie, returns to the world of the demi-famous and those who troll and scavenge in their wake with this funny and sometimes poignant look at the stalking, jostling, shameless world of New York’s paparazzi.
Steve Buscemi, who played the film director in Living in Oblivion, is the bottom-feeding paparazzo Les Galantine whose world consists of lurking on the wrong side of the velvet rope outside clubs and theaters to catch the shot of a celebrity that will land him a sale to a supermarket tabloid. Les rejects the term “paparazzo.” “I’m a licensed professional,” he insists, with seedy dignity. His professional highlights are a shot of Goldie Hawn eating lunch, and another of Elvis Costello without his hat.
Toby Grace (Michael Pitt) is a handsome homeless kid who’s drifted to New York hoping to make it as an actor. Toby meets Les when he stumbles on a gaggle of predatory shutterbugs waiting for a shot of pop diva K’Harma Leeds (Alison Lohman) leaving a building with her boyfriend, and he manages to wangle an unpaid job as Les’s assistant. Les, with churlish magnanimity, allows the kid to clean out a closet in his apartment and sleep on a shelf. He takes Toby along on his hunts to carry equipment, and he teaches the boy the tricks of the trade, like loading up on the free drinks and food at charity events, and grabbing as many goodie bags as possible.
But Toby and Les are on different karmic tracks, and it’s not long before the young hunk begins turning a few well-placed female heads. Serendipity places Toby at K’Harma’s elbow on an evening when she’s on the outs with her boyfriend, and he is scooped into her slipstream, and into her slip as well. They wind up back in her hotel room in the Jacuzzi together (but protected by the semi-innocence of their underwear.)
The other lady who jump-starts Toby’s leap to the fuzzy side of the velvet rope is Dana (Gina Gershon), a casting director who sees his raw potential and gets him a spot on a daytime television series. Soon he’s out of Les’s closet and into Dana’s bed, and he’s crossed over from toting photo equipment to being the quarry of the paparazzi’s lenses.
DiCillo’s themes are loyalty and friendship and betrayal and redemption. Les is a lowlife, a backstabbing opportunist whose verbal assurances are, as Sam Goldwyn once observed, not worth the paper they’re written on. When Toby begins to nibble at the edges of the good life and tries to bring his friend and patron along, Les is powerless to resist the temptation to betray his trust.
And yet, as portrayed by Buscemi, there is a touchingly human and vulnerable side to Les which insinuates itself into our good graces. He and Toby go to Les’s parents’ house for dinner, and Les is humiliated when his father heaps scorn on his latest accomplishment, a quarter-page photo in a tabloid of a famous soap star leaving a private clinic after penile surgery. With no emotional support from his family, and hardly any friends, having an acolyte like Toby who actually looks up to him is balm to Les’s bruised and battered spirit.
We also catch an unexpected glimpse of the real talent that is obscured by Les’s tawdry profession. He offers to take Toby’s head shots to make up for one of his betrayals, and the head shots are terrific.
Snarling, nervously aggressive, Buscemi creates another intriguing version of his loser persona. Buscemi always seems to be acting, but it’s the character, not the actor, who is putting on a self-conscious performance, trying desperately to convince the world and himself that he’s something more impressive than he is. Pitt is the sweet to Buscemi’s sour. Toby is a handsome, likeable kid who moves innocently through the jungle around him. He’s a little dim, but he’s savvy (he can repair anything) and he has a Candide-like goodness and optimism that sees him through,
With his shaggy blond, full-lipped, angelic looks, Pitt is reminiscent of Jon Voight’s Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy, and from there it’s not much of a stretch to morph Buscemi into Ratso Rizzo. So it comes as no surprise to learn that DiCillo consciously turned to John Schlesinger’s 1969 Oscar-winning film as a model for his tale about the co-dependency of celebrity and its exploiters. "That movie made a big impression on me when I was about 17,” he has said. “That was a huge influence on what I wanted to try to do with Delirious.”
DeCillo’s movie won’t reach those Midnight Cowboy heights of success. Delirious opened last year to favorable but modest reviews, and is straggling around now to art houses like a homeless youth looking for a place to crash. But the fact that it’s still on its feet testifies to the life force of this agreeable urban fable, and it may yet find its way across the velvet rope
© Text 2007 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be