“It’s no secret” that Naomi Watts is my favorite actress — and that is what made Ellie Parker such a great film for me. This movie had her doing a range of acting and also gave her a chance to, I would image, have a lot of fun.
The director, Scott Coffey, was in the audience and spoke after, so I learned that the movie was filmed over the course of five years. Watts and Coffey apparently became friends when they were both acting in Tank Girl. Around the time Mulholland Drive was finishing (another movie they were both in — Coffey playing a very minor part, Watts, of course, being one of the main characters) they started working on Ellie Parker. The film started out as a short film that they were going to use as an “audition piece” (not sure about the correct terminology here?) in order to get money for a totally different film. It turns out, however, that they were so pleased with how the short turned out, that they decided to expand it into a full-length feature.
Given Watts’ raising popularity and commitments to other films, they had to work on the film in short pieces (something the director said he would never suggest doing to aspiring film makers). She didn’t get paid to be in the film (the whole thing cost only $500 to make, Coffey said) and as the years went by the “Naomi Watts circus” (i.e. her “people”) were rather perplexed in regard to her dedication to Ellie Parker and not quite sure why she’d spend time on a film that she didn’t get paid for when she had other projects to focus on.
So based on the way Coffey explained it, this sounded like one of those films that Hollywood-types get together and make for fun (not for profit) and have a great time making. Based on my viewing of the film, this seems pretty accurate.
The first half-hour or so features Watts going to two auditions. In the first one she is trying for the part of a southern belle. After her first attempt — subtle and heartfelt — the director informs her “this is going to be filmed on digital, so it has to be raw.” Her next attempt is over the top emotional — and hilarious. In between the first and second auditions we see Watts driving along some Los Angeles highway. The second audition is for some junkie prostitute-type role, so she has to totally change her image — put on different clothes, apply tacky lipstick, mess up her hair, etc. She does all of this while driving — and while listening to great songs such as “Safari” by the Breeders (which I’ve always thought is one of the best Breeders’ songs), “Heart of Glass” by Blondie, and some techno song I cannot remember the name of (to which Watts sorta dances in her car). The whole thing is great, and she actually did do all of that stuff while driving (while Coffey kneeled down in the passenger seat to tape it). The second audition is, awkwardly, done in front of a video camera since the director is in Vancouver. Watts uses a Brooklyn accent and, again, the whole thing is totally funny.
The rest of the movie is basic Hollywood insider stuff. Her boyfriend is a stoner musician who cheats on her. Her friend makes abstract art that she couldn’t understand. She falls for the guy who rear-ends her. She eats blue ice cream and vomits it up later. She attends a very bizarre “acting class” where she learns to channel her life experiences into roles. She goes to a Dogstar concert (Keanu Reeves‘ band). She informs us that therapist = the rapist (if you just add a space). She “retires” from acting. She destroys her tapes. She retires from retirement. She goes to the most insane audition ever.
The movie is great. It is totally hilarious and demonstrates the range of roles Watts can play — though in a very self-conscious and self-aware, in a funny way, way. I found myself laughing at this movie so much, and I can only imagine that if I lived in Los Angeles or worked “in the industry” the movie would be even funnier.
I gave this movie 5/5 because it was so damn funny and so damn postmodern and so damn Naomi Watts-centric. The movie is going to be released to theatres around the same time that King Kong comes out. Coffey noted that Watts would simultaneously be in the most expensive movie ever made and the cheapest movie ever made.