Starry Eyes (2014)

Review first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

“So you’re an actor. You can become other people. But can you be yourself? Can you put your inner being on the screen? Then come try out for Celeste, a young and coming actor in our Tinsel Town terror tale, The Silver Scream.”

Sarah Walker (Alexandra Essoe) fits the bill. A twenty-something wannabe star who, like so many young aspiring actors, is conflicted between self-loathing insecurity and extreme confidence, she resents waiting tables at Big Taters to pay the rent in the LA apartment she shares with best friend Tracy (Amanda Fuller), and hangs out with a coterie of fellow hopefuls whom she regards less as friends than as impediments or even rivals on her path to success. So she answers the ad, endures a series of demanding, humiliating and creepy auditions at Astraeus Productions, and enters a Faustian pact with the dark forces that pull the strings in film production – or at least in her head – as she discovers who she really is and how far she is willing to go to become the anti-heroine in her own Hollywood horror story. The Silver Scream, after all, is a mirror to Starry Eyes itself.

Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s film is a mumblegore Mulholland Dr., following a would-be startlet’s (self-)destructive fugue through the dreamworld of Tinsel Town. Written with great subtlety, the identity of Starry Eyes is as divided as its protagonist’s, so that it works all at once as a cultish tale of diabolism under the Hollywood sign, as a grim satire of the movie system, and as a tragic psychodrama of a Lynchian ‘woman in trouble’. It is all held together by an astonishing performance from Essoe herself, perfectly conveying her character’s simultaneous ascent and descent into that unworldly stratosphere occupied only by the genuinely stellar – and the truly delusional.

Sarah’s desperate ambition ensures that she will go to hell and back for her ‘gateway part’, literally tearing her hair out, literally going down, literally backstabbing those nearest and dearest – and yet, in the middle of Starry Eyes, her scriptwriting friend Danny (Noah Segan) offers a concrete alternative to all these Hollywood pipe dreams. Rather than keep wasting their time waiting for a call that may never come, he suggests that the whole gang should pool their talents, “just get together and make something.” For a moment there, Danny is laying out the foundations for productions like Starry Eyes itself, an independent labour of love that thumbs its nose at the traditional structures of the Hollywood mainstream. If only Sarah had heeded his advice, instead of travelling a different, altogether less salutary road, and sacrificing everything and everyone else along the way.

Anton Bitel