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IN SHORT: Ladies and Gents, your first major Oscar contender.... [Rated PG-13 for some sensuality. 117 minutes]
With a sense of humor and satire as biting as it is respective of Hollywood's past and present foibles, Andrew Nicol has trumped his last outing (The Truman Show), this time imposing a fabricated character on an unbelievably believing world. As outrageously creative as it is a touching character piece, Simone blasts past all pretensions and delivers a movie going experience that is not only fun, but memorable, too. Not bad for made up characters in a made up world.
As for the "real" characters in this made up world, the center of the world is failing director Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino). Twice Oscar nominated (if only in the Short Subjects category), Taransky has lived down his failed feature Straw Gods and a failed marriage to studio exec Elaine Christian (Catherine Keener). With ten years of defeat under his belt, Vik is busy trying to cope with the demands of Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder), star of his big comeback film Sunrise, Sunset. Anders' trailer isn't the largest on on the lot. Her candy isn't properly sorted. Her appearance in the film is only a sop to the failing director and she doesn't want to do it anymore. The lawyers swoop down with papers forbidding the use of any frame of film with her image in it. Co-star Hal Sinclair (Jay Mohr) refuses to work with an unknown substitute . . . as if any would work with Taransky. His failure has become legendary in Hollywood and the only person to approach him, computer geek Hank Aleno (Elias Koteas) dies before Taransky takes Aleno's claim of being able to computer generate a perfect actress seriously.
The only copy of the program, called Simulation One (aka SimOne), is left to Taransky in Aleno's will and, once Vik figures out how to work a computer, damned if does indeed generate the perfect Hollywood actress. Nine later a blonde vision, enhanced with bits of Lauren Bacall and Audrey Hepburn, stuns Hollywood as the star of a revamped and Anders-free Sunrise, Sunset. Hollywood is delighted -- not in that Candy Coated Popcorn Peanuts and a Prize kind of delight -- it's more like a feeding frenzy of legit press and paparazzi. So stoked by the newbie star's refusal to make a public appearance that the life of everyone close to her is trampled and destroyed. Destruction, by the way, is a Hollywood term meaning a 3 picture deal with director's final cut. Vik's next film, Eternity Forever, cements Simone's celebrity and pushes the public frenzy to the brink. So entwined are Simone and Taransky that the director cannot sell a project without her.
The trash tabloid Echo Magazine puts its best investigator Max Sayer (Pruitt Taylor Vince) on the case. With his his personal geek Milton (Jason Schwartzman) tapping and hacking everything there is to tap and hack into while he papers the underclass at every hotel and restaurant with loads of Benjamins, Max can't find a thing. The more this pair wants to know Simone, the more they want to know Simone. If you catch our drift. On the other side of the coin, Elaine must battle to retain her control over a studio whose biggest star she cannot admit she's never met fact to face. That, and the fact that her second marriage is being destroyed by this Simone obsession just adds a nice extra bit of story, as daughter Lainey (Evan Rachel Wood) senses that this mysterious blonde may bring her parents back together.
But Vik adds a touch of Madonna and a drop or two of Whitney Houston to the mix and Simone the film mega-superstar is elevated to virtual goddesshood. More Fame. More Fans -- hundreds of thousands of paying attendees at her live concerts . . . yeah, we were in the biz and we know the flaw. The way this story is structured, we were so deep into the necessary disbelief that we carried on . . . and an ever growing Power and Responsibility that, dare we say it, makes the one man responsible for it all wish a quick, if not necessarily horrible, death to his creation. She has become a monster which must be destroyed.
Yeah, fat chance.
Andrew Nicol's script shreds all the perks of Hollywood as if he were writing with a Miracle Blade. He buries all sorts of clues and jokes that will have any film fan rolling, and he does so in a way that if you have no idea what he's doing you won't miss a thing. All his characters are fully developed, even the comic relief and the third act wraps with a not to the final resting place of much of Hollywood's early greatness. As written, either you'll get it or you'll just cruise along with a great story. Pacino and Keener balance each other perfectly, whether as sparring ex-es, as boss and employee or as parents to the kidlet who knows far more than her years (as it always seems to be). As for Pacino, you've seen the man "crack up" in other movies, right?
You ain't seen nothing yet.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Simone, he would have paid . . .
Think Pinocchio + A Star is Born by way of Frankenstein and enjoy the ride.
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