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ELLIE

ELLIE PARKER (2005 - R)

This adept reality-TV-esque black comedy is a powerful satire on the seedy, wacky, psychotic underpinnings of glamorous Los Angeles and the Hollywood film industry.  Following the many a breakdown and breakthroughs of aspiring young ingénue Ellie Parker, one witnesses the inevitable character reductive transformation one goes as they attempt to break into Hollywood. 

The cast includes: Naomi Watts, Rebecca Rig, Scott Coffey, Mark Pellegrino, and Chevy Chase.

Written and directed by: Scott Coffey.

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Tagline:  Seedy Hollywood-Vision

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Summary:

This adept reality-TV-esque black comedy is a powerful satire on the seedy, wacky, psychotic underpinnings of glamorous Los Angeles and the Hollywood film industry.  Following the many a breakdown and breakthroughs of aspiring young ingénue Ellie Parker, one witnesses the inevitable character reductive transformation one goes as they attempt to break into Hollywood. 

This film is a rare gem in the entertainment industry- a rebellious, almost anarchist depiction of the dark truths and the ridiculous extremes of Hollywood.  However, I will stress that it is not for everyone.  It’s unique and borderline bizarre.  But then again, that’s where the genius of the film lies.  It’s in the witty script, the wacky Improv, the eclectic heterogeneous melting pot of Hollywood wannabes, the quirky cameos, the random musical interludes, and the gritty, unfiltered lens that captures all the ugly truths of the LA entertainments industry. 

Scott Coffey doesn’t once flinch or waver his determination in depicting his little Hollywood “un-fairytale” in anything but unfiltered lenses and natural light- all the more realistic, he affirms.   And so it seems he succeeds where, perhaps, others have not.  And in deed, as schizoid as this film tends to border at times, it is realistic in every sense and captures the desperation and dramatization of human beings as aspiring entertainers.  In both “Ellie Parker” (the film) and in Ellie Parker (the girl; Naomi Watts) the line between  life and art is continually blurred, transcended, and often confused so that the protagonist is at once sincere and putting on a performance; her spectacle is spectacular and the world and her mirror, not Hollywood, is her stage.

In “Ellie Parker” Scott Coffey is as much at work on developing this Indy masterpiece as is the bold Naomi Watts who ditches the easy path of Hollywood Blockbuster- of which she’s already starred in more than a successful few by now-to take on a more daring, challenging, almost suicidal role as the wilting flower Ellie Parker; blonde beauty; Australian import; and generic to a “T,” as far as Hollywood goes.  And again, Scott Coffey makes us laugh when he emerges from behind the camera for his stint role as the “questionably queer” Chris; one of Ellie’s many a floundering love trysts.  Here Chris is as witty as he is wacky; schizoid as he is satiric, and he shines in all his eccentric glory.  And who can forget the salute to the “man bag!”

As the audience watches Ellie submit herself to embarrassing roles, shameless auditions, ridiculous theatrical tactics, and all sorts of other absurdities and oddities one realizes the truly demoralizing and de-humanizing effect the mass-material entertainment industry provokes with its slew of conventions, stipulations, and artifice.  Ellie Parker is as much a central protagonist as she is a template for the universal “actor,” the potential “it” girl who sees stars in her head but whose Billboard status is never realized. 

There to console the ever jaded Ellie is best friend Sam (Rebecca Rigg) who’s half Eastern, half Western philosophic vibe tends to have a balancing effect.  We see her as the calm in the storm, the all-seeing eye, that that is genuine…that is, until we realize that she too is just another screwed up actress whose kleptomania and dramatic flair just carry a certain different quality than that of Ellie.  Like Ellie she is a chameleon, hers is just a coat of a darker color:  any genuine emotion is as contrived as that of the blonde spectacle witnessed in Ellie. 

And yet, aside from all their impertinent debaucheries and wild attempts at self abandonment in the name of Career, these two women are real.  Above all, they are girls, trapped in an industry that stigmatizes them into the role of puppet.  In LA they are among a sea of “baby doll” faces and supple skin that is to be made rosy cheeked and squeaky clean, impenetrable, and as hollow and artificial as the dolls on display in their cases at home.  

These women, who struggle to throw off the shackles of youth and the false perspective of eternal beauty, simultaneously succumb to any shameless opportunity to earn bread for the table.  They are trapped between being true to themselves, and making rent; between being a creative muse and succumbing to the role of puppet.  They are slaves to a Myth (acting as a genuine raw talent) that has long faded from the foreground of the industry since the motion picture swept the nation and (often) stripped actors of the need for talent- image, icon, and idolatry were “Talent’s” replacements. 

This film argues, in a paradoxical way- since it chooses to use none of the following mentioned for a very specific reason- there is nothing a certain filter, a little lighting, and a good makeup artist and wardrobe designer can’t fix: having talent isn’t as important as having a “Name.”  And yet, how do you ever achieve “name” status if you can’t even break into the industry in the first place?

Ironically there is a hint of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Day of the Locusts”- ironically, there is even a reference to locusts early in the film- and its seedy, dark comedy satiric depiction of Hollywood’s backstreets- again, the film also frequently shows the Hollywood “hills” and canyons, of which Hawthorne frequently explored in his book, as well as the depiction of the low income apartments and the ramshackle existence of starting artists living beyond their means and still desperate for more. 

In deed so many parallels emerge between Hawthorne’s book and Coffey’s film that one can’t help but wonder the possibility of Coffey’s not having read the book.  Or perhaps Coffey’s film, if “originally” created, is only testament to the powerful “truths” that Hawthorne spoke of in the mid 20th century with his razor sharp novel.  Perhaps Hollywood really “is” that transparent.  And yet, for all its transparency, we are still continually blinded by the glitz and the lights, unable to see the decrepit and the dirt that lay lurking in the backdrop.  The beautiful spectacle of glamour and glitz is nothing more than a mask slapped on a broken structure.  Hollywood is to the industry as a performance is to an actor: nothing is real.

Likewise, parallels between Coffey’s film and famous 20th century satiric playwright and novelist Anita Loos’ “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” should be mentioned.  For all their eccentric individualized personas, Ellie and Sam function in much the same manner as Loos’ infamous Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Parker (note the coincidence in the last name).  Dorothy is to Lorelei as Sam is to Ellie, a big sister, with as much art to her act as the former, but with a hint of superior intellect so that her timing is all the more appropriate when and “if” she does choose to shed the tear or turn on the charm- note the “crying scene” in the car.  In deed stereotypes of “blonde” and “brunette” are explored in this film in as much a nuanced way as in Loos’ funny pulp novel which, for all its pop-culture praise, was far darker than initially perceived.

In the end “Ellie Parker” is a rare treat that awaits a true film critic and literary buff.  Anyone who is “intrigued by the juxtaposition of the absurd and the tragic, the dissolute and all things jaded, will be nothing short of pleased with Coffey’s dark humor which perfectly oscillates from dead pan comedy to subtle wit and black humor.  This film is well paced for those who appreciate the overarching motives and agenda of the film.  It is a Buildings Roman of sorts that begins with a bright blonde beauty and ends with a jaded girl sucked into the inescapable vortex that is Hollywood and all its promises of fortune fame and, of course, art for the sake of art- promises never fully realized no matter how successful one manages to be with their career.

“Ellie Parker” won the Seattle International Film Festival Award for Honorable Mention performance (Naomi Watts) and the Special Jury Prize (Scott Coffey).  Additionally the film was nominated for the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize for “Dramatic” (Scott Coffey).

Main Characters:

Naomi Watts plays Ellie Parker, the blonde spectacle.

Rebecca Rig plays Sam, the brunette beauty.

Scott Coffey plays Chris, that “questionably queer” guy.

Mark Pellegrino plays Justin, the wannabe musician.

Chevy Chase plays Dennis, the shameless agent.

Memorable Quotes:

Ellie:  I don’t know who I am anymore?

Chris:  I was thinking of Johnny Depp