At the outset, Factory Girl looks like thin material for a biopic: It covers the life of Edie Sedgwick, a college dropout propelled to "it" girl status by Andy Warhol in the sixties, only to lose herself, as "it" people often do, to drugs and fresher faces. The movie starts with her leaving college, ends well before her death at age 28, and (intentionally or not) presents a convincing case that she didn't do much with the years in between.
But so many filmed biographies cram from childhood to old age, resulting in filmed Cliff Notes, or a mini-series at twice the speed and half the scenes. That Factory Girl doesn't have to cover an Edie Sedgwick comeback -- that she dies young and off-camera -- is a perverse relief. George Hickenlooper
's brief, sometimes impressionistic film is most illuminating when showing both the allure and the casualties of Warhol's free but detached Factory scene. Article continues below
Speaking with an upper-crust movie-star accent that sounds sort of like a cigarette-damaged Audrey Hepburn (Sedgwick's idol), Sienna Miller
plays Edie Sedgwick not as a larger-than-life force of nature but as a girl who wants to be famous, have fun, and escape her wretched (but monied) family life. In Warhol's purposefully artificial and unscripted DIY movies, she could be herself, not do much of anything, and still win art-circle praise. She needs Warhol (Guy Pearce
) more than he needs her, but he's the one who feels slighted and hurt if she, say, spends time with an unnamed musician who looks and sounds an awful lot like Bob Dylan (Hayden Christensen
). Pearce is terrific as Warhol, welcoming Edie into his world and then shutting her -- or anyone else -- out with cold ease, shielding himself with his sunglasses and peppering his speech with oh yeahs that manage to sound both inviting and dismissive.
Christensen may have an even tougher part, essentially playing Dylan without getting to admit it, but he's helped by an uncanny resemblance to the folk poet as a young man, as well as an ability to capture the truth and bluster behind a young Dylan. The various scenes between Sedgwick, Warhol, and/or semi-Dylan all have an odd, alluring art-project charge.
But Pearce and Christensen aren't onscreen all the time -- they can't stick around for Sedgwick's druggy fade-out -- and the movie suffers without them. Hickenlooper has assembled an eclectic supporting cast, but underuses familiar faces like Jimmy Fallon
, Mena Suvari
, and Illeana Douglas, all doing what they can with brief, two-dimensional roles that beg for a standout scene or two. The closest any of the support has to a moment is a protective outburst from Edie's college friend (apparent Weinstein
contract player Shawn Hatosy).
A wandering, ill-defined supporting cast can be symptomatic of a real mess, but if anything, Factory Girl isn't messy enough, with some tidy voiceover musings from Miller that the actors render redundant with just a few lines or gestures. With plot smartly de-emphasized in favor of scene-setting, Hickenlooper could've gone further with the film's stylish visual hodgepodge of blurs, slow-motion, and high-contrast photography. Instead, the film holds back, a little too restrained to break out of the rise-and-fall biopic trajectory, even as Sedgwick's lost life provides plenty of diversions from this formula. All of the talented background players look like victims of this slight reticence.
But is it so lamentable that a film about a semi-model-slash-semi-actress, willing to try whatever but only fitting in for a little while, registers more as a curiosity than a full-fledged film? If nothing else, Factory Girl gives an unsettling glimpse into what it's like to be used up and then left out by an unforgiving art scene. Sedgwick liked attention and she liked having fun; at least the movie honors half of that.