For most of human history, by the time news of your celebrity rippled across an ocean, you were likely already dead. But then came the Gutenberg, and the telegraph, and most devastatingly for Edie Sedgwick, the camera. Edie wasn’t the first New York celebutante, but she was the first infamous celebutante heroin addict. In her films with best frenemy Andy Warhol, she took off her shirt more often than she acted—just chattered and charmed the lens—but it’s unfair to think of her as a proto-Paris Hilton, as Edie truly believed she and Andy were making brilliant art.
Which is one more delusion Sienna Miller shares with her subject in Factory Girl (the others are her trend-setting talents and tabloid adventures), as it’s clear from all the nudity and tears that she and director George Hickenlooper want to squeeze Edie’s vapidity until it makes a diamond. Which is a tall order, giving that Andy (listless viper Guy Pearce) prized glamorous surfaces über alles, and as his muse, Edie was happy to oblige. (When asked about her thoughts on the Vietnam War, she twinkles “I prefer I Dream of Jeannie.”)
A former art student in cardigans and pearls—a sure sign in any biopic that the drug needles cometh—Edie lived and died by fun. Hickenlooper’s camera swoops and jitters as it tries to soak in every last bit of spastic dancing and LSD. It skips through her rise and fall like a rock skimming a shallow pond. Partying left her no time to paint, and so her partying became her art. With her modeling and gallery careers dismissed before they began, she bought into Warhol’s myth that her best talents were smoking languidly, tossing her earrings, and simply being Edie. When she tells Warhol on film that she lost her virginity during a stay at a mental hospital, he moans enviously, “That’s so chic.” Edie’s pre-Warhol days, if you buy the script, were dark, and as Sienna reveals her pains, her performance doesn’t change, but your interpretation of it does. Her happy, bobble-headed sweetness seems less a copout then a coup. Here, Edie’s adamant innocence is represented entirely by the horses that seem to pop up in need of soothing where ever she goes—even in Andy’s factory—as though there was as much horse whisperer in the slender socialite as horse.
The Factory pony rides end with Edie’s jealousy-inducing affair with rock star Bob Dylan, which makes Andy think his creation has grown too big for her spangled tunics. If that romance between baubles and brains sounds like blarney, it is, as Dylan spent 1966 with he and wife Sara’s newborn and recovering from a motorcycle accident that left him with a broken neck. Edie’s brother Jonathan insists the couple had a furtive abortion after Edie was hospitalized for her own motorcycle crash, but for reasons of honesty (or lawsuits), the film contents itself casting Hayden Christensen, who looks so much like a hot young Robert Zimmerman that it hurts the eyes, and refusing to give him a name. (The credits list him as “Folk Singer.”)
With his harmonica-toting introduction, Factory Girl turns from A Star is Born to Mean Girls as Andy sets about destroying his monster. There’s a brilliant scene where Christensen and his manager tromp in to Warhol’s lair to dress down the tyrant on camera. “You ain’t going to direct me?” he sneers, and when his manager suggests they take Andy’s Brillo sculptures as payment, Christensen snorts that his grandma has a stack of them in his basement. Exposed in front of his coterie as the artist who wears no ideas, Andy struggles to stay impassive behind his dark sunglasses, but the damage is done. Caught between two men she loves, Edie spirals out of control. But what the film needs to underline is that the two men she loves don’t love her as anything more than an amusement. Andy is irredeemable, but Hickenlooper dangles the false hope that the love of a good musician could have saved Edie from dying before 30.
Like its subjects, this film is too superficial for emotional substance; sprinting through its unexplored plot points, it’s the Cliffs Notes to the perils of fame. Over the credits, those who knew Edie best attempt to say something meaningful about her, but like the film, they get stuck on banalities like “sweet” and “trusting” and “fragile.” In the end, Factory Girl falls victim to the same fates as Warhol’s plotless epics that blankly watched Edie dress, talk and shoot up. They’re both eulogies to a girl who had every minute of minutiae filmed, but at the end of the reel, still slipped away unseen.