Factory Girl is a 60's film heavily influenced by another 60's film -- Oliver Stone's The Doors. Like Stone's intriguing plastic vision of Jim Morrison's perpetual-bender world, this is a film seen from the inside of a jelly-lensed fishbowl, where beautiful people with vanilla helmet-hair hold court in infrared corner booths at Max's Kansas City, stabbing out cigarettes and talking in maddening, rapid-fire generalities about 'art' and getting 'beneath the surface' of things and so forth. The civil rights struggle is a television show that they ignore as they walk past it -- it's a prop to settle us into the time period, along with the curly-q phone cords and big, spongy acid cubes. Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick have a microphone stuck in their faces at an event and are asked: "What do you think of the war in Vietnam?" "We prefer I Dream of Jeannie," Edie spits back. But as turned-on by superficiality as Warhol was, this film, coming in the age of Paris Hilton, stumbles by settling for a pair of superficial portraits.
Outer and Inner Space, a Warhol film that critic Amy Taubin called an "ingenious memento mori," shows Sedgwick being forced to confront video footage of her own chattering head; Warhol is mocking the fundamental imbalance contained in the heiress -- wealth and privilege and social access without any ambition or character. Factory Girl is largely uninterested in Warhol's artistic pursuits, however, and Guy Pearce was clearly nettled into delivering an amusing spin on the Warhol 'character' -- during confession, he pops Hershey's Kisses and daydreams about whether Norman Mailer will ever punch him. The Sedgwick of this film, played with ability by Sienna Miller, is also somewhat misrepresented. She's portrayed as a fragile fawn, with the woundability of Audrey Hepburn and the go-along, casting-couch enthusiasm of a groupie. The real Edie seems to have been more of a fighting spirit -- when you look for her in the endless detritus of unfinished Warholia-footage that exists, you're less likely to find her fluttering like a damsel than play-wrestling, pulling growl-faces and flexing her horse-riding muscles.
The main plotline of Factory Girl centers on a bizarre love triangle between Sedgwick, the homosexual Warhol and the space-cadet Bob Dylan, who Sedgwick may or may not have had a significant relationship with. No amount of research can pin down the endlessly conflicting stories, but Dylan was sufficiently disturbed by the film's portrayal of him to threaten legal action, which led to a cowardly decision on Weinstein's part to have his name awkwardly removed entirely from the print. Hayden Christensen, wonderful as the phoney-baloney journalist Stephen Glass in Shattered Glass, does a decent job with what he's given, which isn't much. His Dylan is presented as the light and the fullness, where Andy is the shallow and the shadow. That may be a fundamentally flawed idea, but the film doesn't do much with it anyway. Dylan is, to be honest, presented as something of a jackass -- reduced to pushing out a pouty lip and poking Edie in the heart-area, while telling her that "what's in there is as empty as your friend's soup cans."
In addition to presenting shallow, confused ideas about his subjects, director George Hickenlooper also strangled Factory Girl by insisting that it hit a number of specific, banal notes. As we rocket through the stages of Edie's short life -- she died at 28 of a heroin overdose -- intrusive titles tell us that she is now at art school, now at this or that hospital, now in Santa Barbara, and so on. This is a self-important, flawed approach to a biopic of a non-entity, no offense, Edie. Even at Warhol's court, Edie never held the center -- the center was Warhol -- nor did she ever find any significance in the public sphere out of his shadow. Her 'early days' are a subject of alarming unimportance, despite the interesting ghoulishness of her family members, all of whom are referred to by the kind of baby names that immediately make us think of the moneyed, Kate Hepburn-Northeast. At least two siblings committed suicide and the father, referred to as 'Fuzzy,' apparently had a perpetual hard-on for his daughter. The film should have left Edie's past alone and dialed down the attention given to her point-of-view; the character needs to retain some mystery.
No studio that has Oscar hopes for a film would ever release it with the noticeably short length of Factory Girl -- it barely clocks in at 87 minutes. It's painfully obvious that along with Dylan's name, one or two of his more damning scenes ended up in a dumpster somewhere in the back of the Weinstein offices. The climactic scene, in which Sedgwick, Dylan and Warhol end up in the same room together, has very little punch thanks to the scant investment the filmmakers have made in the characters up to that point. What is set up to be a clash of the Super Boyfriends between Dylan and Warhol comes off as more like a battle of caricatures, with Warhol attempting to direct the testy Dylan during a screen-test and Dylan sneering at the entire thing and refusing to do what Warhol asks. What you feel when watching the scene is a strong sense of watching capable actors -- Miller included -- who have been done a great disservice by the screenwriter, director, and studio chief who got them to that point.