Edie Sedgwick, the “Factory Girl” of the title, was the original party girl and the first to make fame a job. She became Andy Warhol’s muse in the mid-to-late sixties, with her short lived pop icon status eventually leading to a tragic death.
Edie’s story is a familiar one. She came to New York as a relatively innocent girl with aspirations to be an artist, but reinvented herself as a social butterfly. Warhol (Guy Pearce, “Memento") meets and becomes obsessed with Edie (Sienna Miller, “Casanova”). He decides to quit painting and focus on making her famous. Edie slowly loses herself to her own iconic status as she succumbs to the drugs, alcohol and various other excesses of fame.
The idea of fame, and everyone getting their 15 minutes of it, was one that fascinated Warhol, but the film doesn’t explore that too deeply. “Factory Girl” offers a peak inside Warhol’s Factory, the large studio where he did much of his art and films. The Factory is a world unto itself populated by oddballs and social rejects that are free to explore their art.
Warhol was an enigmatic figure with his pale skin, mousy voice and awkward social skills. Pearce nails the mannerism and vocal inflection in a performance that initially seems like nothing more than mimicry, but as the film progresses Pearce adds shading to his interpretation of Warhol.
When Edie begins an affair with a musician (Hayden Christensen, the new “Star Wars” trilogy) Warhol becomes jealous and cruel. Warhol’s self-proclaimed emotional detachment can’t completely hide his hurt which Pearce quietly registers in almost unnoticeable facial ticks.
Christensen is clearly playing Bob Dylan, but for legal reasons the character is listed as simply The Musician in the credits. He captures Dylan’s brooding cynicism and desire to challenge society. Christensen smolders with intensity that will surprise those who thought he single-handedly ruined “Star Wars.” He shines most in a scene in which he does a screen test for Warhol, blatantly mocking him the whole time.
Dylan and Warhol in many ways were doing the same thing, but Dylan’s art had depth where Warhol’s was seemingly more superficial. The film does a nice job of recreating the atmosphere of Warhol’s pop art world, but doesn’t delve beyond shallow interpretation. A case can be made that as it is shallow art it is unworthy of deep analysis.
Some would contend that Warhol was forcing pop culture to look at self with his work being a mirror of society. If that reflection is shallow that isn’t Warhol’s fault. The film seems to lean towards that view with Edie stating Warhol was throwing America back at people and “turning the assembly line into a punch line.”
But this isn’t a film about Warhol. It isn’t called “Factory Boy,” but you wish it was. Edie, at least as presented here, isn’t that interesting a figure. This is no fault of Miller who gives a strong performance. Miller knows how to do strung out women well as she already showcased in “Alfie.”
Edie was a damaged girl with a sexually abusive father and the weight of her gay brother’s death constantly plaguing her. Miller is forced to give numerous speeches rewording this information. The first time it is presented - in a flippant filmed conversation for Warhol - it is unsettling, but the film keeps playing the same emotional cards with no further exploration.
In the film’s most disturbing scene, Jimmy Fallon (“Fever Pitch”) coldly taunts Edie with her own sordid past while prodding a man to molest her as Warhol films it all. It is Warhol’s cruel punishment for leaving him.
Was Edie worthy of a bio-pic in her own right or are we merely fascinated because of her association with Warhol and Dylan? “Factory Girl” doesn’t quite make the case, but holds interest regardless for capturing the essence of the decadent sixties art scene.