“There is no period so remote as the recent past,” says Irwin, the slick revisionist schoolteacher in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys. And Factory Girl is a perfect example of that.
Directed by the conspicuously semicompetent George Hickenlooper (The Big Brass Ring, The Man From Elysian Fields) from a script credited to three writers of no particular distinction, this docudrama presumes to tell all we need to know about Edie Sedgwick, the Andy Warhol “superstar” whose rise and fall continues to reverberate 35 years after her death. For those who were around back then, as I was, it’s easy to see why: Edie was pretty, funny, oddly elegant and quite bright, until the amphetamines she was using in increasing quantities dragged her into semicomatose incoherence. 1965 was her big year, when she appeared to great effect in Warhol’s Vinyl, Poor Little Rich Girl and Beauty #2. Sedgwick and her personal Svengali, fellow Factory dweller Chuck Wein, then sought to take the act elsewhere, with a film project known as Ciao! Manhattan!, which was begun by Wein in 1966 as a black-and-white drama about New York scene-making but completed in color in 1972 (by John Palmer and David Weissman) as a “reality-based” exploitation flick of Edie at low ebb. It’s a shame that Ciao! Manhattan!, which incorporates Sedgwick’s passing into its action, is better known today than her Warhol efforts. But as hapless as it is, it’s still preferable to Factory Girl, a film whose current notoriety stems from Bob Dylan threatening to sue its makers.
He has a point. Maybe even a case.
In Factory Girl, Dylan is called Quinn (after his musical tribute to Nicholas Ray’s The Savage Innocents) and played by Hayden Christensen as if he were auditioning for The James Franco Story. The movie would have us believe that Edie brought a reluctant Dylan to meet Warhol, which is far from true. Then again, neither is the film’s claim that Dylan had anything to do with Edie’s dissolution. He wrote “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat” and “Just Like a Woman” in her honor, after all. Likewise lacking justification is Guy Pearce’s rendering of Warhol as an idiot savant. That was the persona Andy played to the public; the real man had one of the sharpest minds imaginable. The minds behind Factory Girl are quite dull, especially in scenes that attempt to re-create the filming of Horse (whose cowboys were next to naked, as opposed to the overgrown kiddie dress-up figures depicted here) and Beauty #2 (Jimmy Fallon’s Chuck Wein seems half-asleep, which was definitely not Chuck). Most laughable of all is the film’s portrayal of the pre-Andy Edie as a starry-eyed innocent. She was the most sophisticated fag hag Boston had ever seen, and her fame on this score was the reason Andy wanted to meet her in the first place. The post-Andy Edie, including Ciao! Manhattan! and her brief fling as a California biker chick, doesn’t appear here at all.
Sienna Miller captures much of Edie’s physical manner and some of her voice (though she’s nowhere near deep enough), but there’s nothing she can do with material that requires her to mope and pout for the bulk of her screen time. Still, as moribund as Factory Girl is, the lawsuit it has apparently inspired will surely prove most entertaining. Dorothy Dean, rest her wicked soul, would have loved it. And if you know who that is, then you have even less reason to pay any mind to the likes of Hickenlooper and company.
FACTORY GIRL | Directed by GEORGE HICKENLOOPER | Written by CAPTAIN MAUZNER, from a story by SIMON MONJACK, AARON RICHARD GOLUB and MAUZNER | Produced by MALCOLM PETAL, BUDDY BART, KIMBERLY C. ANDERSON, HOLLY WIERSMA and GOLUB | Released by MGM and the Weinstein Co. | Westside Pavilion