By Stephanie Zacharek
By Simon Abrams
By Michelle Orange
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Nick Schager
By Amy Nicholson
By The Invisible Woman
By I Used to Be Darker
You are likely to take to The Real Blonde, a bittersweet farce about romantic yearning and delusional ambition in Manhattan, in direct proportion to your tolerance for self-absorbed 25-year-olds and the value you put on the advertising and theatrical trades. If, for instance, you can stomach the waiter who believes he's really Laurence Olivier and you see Madonna as a major cultural force, you might be glued to the screen.
If you hate rock videos, fashion models and hip angst, stay home.
The writer/director is Tom DiCillo, himself something of a rage, who savaged the independent-film crowd in Living in Oblivion and redeemed a middle-aged square (kind of) in Box of Moonlight. This time he examines a group of strivers-at-the-crossroads--Matthew Modine's Joe, an actor with no credits and no agent but plenty of ego; Catherine Keener's budding feminist avenger, Mary, who's at her wits' end living with Joe; Maxwell Caulfield's preening soap-opera star, Bob; Bridgette Wilson's unfulfilled "supermodel," Sahara; Elizabeth Berkley's professional body double, whose actual hair color is the movie's ruling (if not overbearing) metaphor.
These people, dedicated dreamers all, occupy themselves largely with worry--worry about the future, worry about their careers, worry about tracking down the elusive ideal in lives riddled with real. What they don't understand, more or less, is that they're worshiping a false god. Actual human feeling and connection, our Mr. DiCillo now reveals to the world, is more valuable than baubles, bangles and "real blondes."
For those to whom the notion of false values has never occurred, The Real Blonde may be an edifying, even soul-shaking, experience. Those who can distinguish between gold and fool's gold may not be so moved--despite the familiar sting of DiCillo's wit, his easy way with actors and, yes, his unexpected generosity.
Modine's Joe can be an annoyingly selfish presence, but the moment Joe comes into his own--discovers his authentic self--as an actor, is sheer magic. Wilson's Sahara (there's a handle for you) is the satiric definition of airhead, but DiCillo gives her real enough feelings. As for Elizabeth Berkley, she looks deliriously happy just to have escaped from the set of Showgirls.
In short, what we have here is a mixed blessing--a satire of wrongheaded ambition that threatens always to take itself too seriously, a hipster fairy tale spiked with black comedy, a story of struggle in the big city that isn't quite as big-city as it might like to think.
Proceed with caution: You'll love it or hate it.
The Real Blonde.
Written and directed by Tom DiCillo. With Matthew Modine, Catherine Keener, Bridgette Wilson, Maxwell Caulfield and Elizabeth Berkley.
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