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by Jay Seaver

"Young actors making movies about young actors. Never seen THAT before!"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: One of the earliest pieces of advice given to any writer just getting started is "write what you know". Now, the world would be a somewhat dire place if people didn't grow out of that advice, or when what they know is not particularly interesting (my early attempts at blogging are all the evidence one needs to see to believe that). Thankfully, the makers of "Wannabe" have accumulated enough interesting anecdotes about trying to get one's start in Hollywood to fill an eighty-minute film.

Like Craig Robert Young, the actor who plays him, Steve Williams is a young actor from Nottingham who was in a boy band five years earlier, scoring a couple of English top ten hits before moving to Los Angeles because what he really wants to do is act. A few scenes come from experience, though with some embellishment - both actor and character are deaf in one ear, and were hounded out of an audition for a "disabled actors' showcase" by other hopefuls who felt he wasn't disabled enough (or so we were told in the Q&A afterward); both at one point made up a fictitious manager to be taken more seriously in auditions. And even the stuff that is completely fictional has the ring of truth; it's easy to see these characters pin their hopes on Jerry Bruckheimer being aware of their short film.

The film is presented as a "where are they now?" documentary about Williams, complete with opening narration, flashbacks to stock footage, and the inevitable looking over one's shoulder to talk directly to the camera. The specific story that evolves is Steve's battle with Paul Stannard (Adam Huss), which is as trivial to the world at large as it is desperately important to him. Paul was once in a different group, and though they each say it's water under the bridge, Steve tenses up at Paul's claim that he won "Best Dancer" on a "battle of the boy bands" TV special, and things only get worse when both Steve's agent (Elizabeth Warner) and Steve's roommate Molly (Anna Becker), whom he is rather smitten with, both take an immediate shine to Paul.

That Steve is the sane one in this film serves as a perfect example of how insane Hollywood is, at least the way Young and director Richard Keith (who wrote the screenplay along with Young) see it. Steve is not exempted from seeming childish or crazy - not by a long shot. The fight over the award is ridiculous, and the lengths he goes to to find work are sometimes kind of sad. Still, he's generally a decent guy who tries to maintain some level of professionalism, isn't too proud to find honest work, and tends to be caught flat-footed when something crazy happens next to him. It would be easy to portray this character as stupid or just terribly nave; instead, Young takes the route of having him not quite be as far over his head as he first appears, and, besides, we've all been in his situation before, where no-one else seems to be able to see that some person isn't nice but is, in fact, Satan.

The rest of the cast of unknowns is fairly entertaining, too. Huss plays Paul as sort of the opposite of Steve, not really willing to work for success, but initially seems industrious because he likes to clean. Most of the other characters have their own brand of insanity - the casting director who won't shake hands, the vicious disabled people, the dancer/bowler, the director who manages to be an out-of-control egomaniac despite only directing a zero-budget short film. None of these are really fully fleshed-out characters, but one does have to give the actors credit for looking straight into the camera and saying some of this stuff with a straight face.

Richard Keith shows some promise with his first feature. Shooting documentary-style prevents him from getting too fancy - there's only so many angles you can get inside a car, and knocking out a wall to get a better setup isn't an option. There are a couple of moments when the documentary illusion is broken, and the same scene is apparently shot from different angles, but they're rare. The film is fairly episodic, with about eight or nine titled chapters, and while I don't necessarily think that's a rookie mistake, it has a tendency to highlight when a segment is a digression from the Steven-Paul storyline. Still, give credit where credit is due for how naturally that storyline emerges, spits out jokes, and resolves, even if it does lean on the mockumentary staple of a "six months later" epilogue.

"Wannabe" will probably feel familiar, even to those of us who haven't been actors trying to get their start. After all, Young and Keith aren't the first people to make a movie set against the less-glamorous part of the Hollywood machine (lots of undiscovered actors, writers, and directors have "written what they know") and won't be the last (there's a never-ending supply). They do it well enough, though, and make the familiar jokes funny. Now the challenge is to do something a little more creative.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13791&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/14/06 11:46:24
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