As the star of Entourage for the last six years, Adrian Grenier's life contends with paparazzi both on and off the screen. That mass of insistent cameras is everyday fare that comes with the territory. But one day a few years ago, he was blinded by the rapid-fire explosion of one specific camera flash. At the firing end wasn't some older pap eager for a prime picture worth thousands, it was a little blonde kid. And he wasn't a fan; he was part of the paparazzi.
Intrigued, Grenier hunted down 13-year-old Austin Visschedyk and turned the cameras on him for a two-punch documentary called Teenage Paparazzo. Detailing the life of a teen who roams the Los Angeles streets day and night to capture celebrity pictures, and the business of paparazzi photography and tabloid journalism, Grenier tackles a thematic double bill that is an entertaining -- if occasionally glossy and over-stretched -- account of the culture of fame.
At the center of everything is Austin, a well-spoken thirteen year old kid who roams the streets of Los Angeles, hanging out with fellow paparazzi and clamoring for shots of tabloid darlings like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. Offspring of the smallest sliver of parental authority, Austin comes and goes as he pleases. Mom is sure that can she can trust her son, and doesn't seemed worried about his late-night ways. Whether it's 3 P.M. on a Saturday or 3 A.M. on a weeknight, he has almost free reign to follow incoming tips and hound local celebrities. He gets around the obvious educational challenges by being home-schooled, and it's quite clear that Austin is not only well-spoken, but also a Grade-A manipulator. When teacher comes to visit, he's a rambunctious kid. When Mom pops her head in, he's a well-behaved student. But he gets B's, so no alarms are raised and the 13-year-old can do what he wants.
Grenier follows Austin, grilling the kid and his fellow paps to try and figure out what makes these men (and women) tick -- why they take the business to such extremes. Naturally, many aren't too keen on Grenier's presence, offering a nice slice of irony with the belief that he is exploiting their work. Eager to understand the life, however, Grenier perseveres and gets in on the action, picking up a camera, joining the chase, and even fighting his way into the mass to grab a picture of Brooke Shields. He wants to understand and experience the life, just as he wants to manipulate and play with it.
With the help of Paris Hilton, Grenier has many opportunities to manipulate the paparazzi, to manufacture rumors and experience the tabloid darling life. Hilton becomes a right-hand woman of sorts, popping up in many interview segments -- though she has nothing worthwhile to say -- and helping Grenier taunt the paps. She is, in fact, front and center so much that one has to wonder if it was part of the deal for her involvement. Her only worthwhile contribution, other than helping Grenier manipulate the photographers, is to act as an airhead. In one of the film's funnier moments, and a totally irrelevant scene, Grenier describes the myth of Narcissus to her, as the story becomes all the more relevant to Austin's life, and she asks him if the story is true.
Superfluous interviews slow the journey on more than one occasion. While some offer insight and valid complaint, whether it be Matt Damon discussing what attracts paparazzi or Lewis Black ranting about the lack of parenting in Austin's life, many don't really add to the discussion, especially when Grenier sits down and chats about the documentary with his Entourage co-stars. He remains a step removed, choosing to be respectful rather than probing, which misses the great opportunity to get some personal and engaging thoughts on the matter. When Grenier digs into the nature of celebrity, and talks to experts about the world of one-sided parasocial relationships and celebrity obsession, however, things fare better. This is their business, and they know how to give the goods.
It's a hard line to travel. Grenier has made himself an active player in this story, wanting to walk in Austin's shoes, and feeling responsible for his own involvement in the kid's growing fame. The filmmaker attempts to befriend and mentor the kid, but the camera offers no insights into Grenier's life. It's focused in one direction like the click of the paparazzi's camera -- a one-sided hand and opinion attempting to guide its subject to a happy ending.
Matched with some pretty flashy graphics and editorial techniques, Teenage Paparazzo won't hit as deep as it could or maybe should. But it is a fun documentary that should, at the very least, make you think and discuss paparazzi and Hollywood celebrity.