Sienna Miller embodies Edie Sedgwick with a thoroughly convincing performance that is a highwire act of emotional and physical alchemy to match Guy Pearce’s pitch-perfect incarnation of Andy Warhol in director George Hickenlooper’s perfunctory biopic about the brief heir to 1960’s supermodel Twiggy. The story of American blue blood Edie Sedgwick’s quick rise to fame through her association with Andy Warhol, and her equally rapid burnout due to psychological trauma and drugs, is told through expository flashbacks.
An older Edie talks candidly to a Santa Barbara psychiatrist near the end of her life (she died of a drug overdose at the age of 28). In spite of Miller and Pearce’s spot-on performances, the movie is a scrapbook parade of disjointed set pieces that outline in broad terms the life of an incest survivor repeatedly sent unnecessarily to mental hospitals by her father Fuzzy (James Naughton) in order to hide his sexual relationship with his daughter.
It’s a mistake to compare Edie Sedgwick with modern day famous-for-being-famous party girls whose shaved-crotch-appeal amounts to a hill of beans compared to Edie’s liberating boldness, charisma, intelligence, moxy and eternally modern beauty. There is a famous black and white photo from the 1965 issue of Vogue where Edie stands in a ballet pose balanced on one leg atop a leather rhino, presumably in an affluent New York apartment. Her arms are extended like a bird’s wings with her fingers held in classical ballet position except for the fact that she’s holding a cigarette in her right hand. There’s a large sketch of a horse on the wall behind her that seems to gallop along at the same pace as Edie’s living room flight. In tights and a loose-fitting t-shirt, with short bleached blond hair and fake eyelashes, Edie is a mesmerizing sculpture of a slightly androgynous image whose complexity is limitless in its immediacy and disciplined escapism.
Casting is 80 percent of a director’s job, and George Hickenlooper comes away with an entertaining movie thanks to the expert work of his ensemble cast, with the exception of Hayden Christensen’s goofy performance as a Bob Dylan character referred to in the closing credits only as The Musician. The faux-Dylan romantic subplot with Edie gives a plot twist that causes Warhol to reject Edie out of jealousy.
This reaction, coupled with intimate time spent with Warhol’s Polish mother who regards Edie as a potential girlfriend for Andy, points at the unlikely couple as two equally asexual beings. Edie’s performance in one of several films that she made for Warhol, involves Factory denizen Gerard Malanga (Jack Huston). Edie grooves to the music and glows until a male co-actor approaches her intimately from behind. Edie reacts with a severe revulsion to the physical contact expressed by the unmistakable expression on her face.
As a hurried contemplation on a splinter zeitgeist of the 1960’s counter-culture, Factory Girl gives flashes of light that never illuminate Edie’s date with doom that she foreshadows in voice-over about the broken lifeline on her palm that predicts she will not live past 30.
Hickenlooper leaves out any reference to John Palmer’s Caio Manhattan, the vaguely autobiographical film responsible for much of Edie’s lasting fame in our collective subconscious. Its prominent absence only underscores other sketchy elements, like the vague presence of The Velvet Underground, whose music is poorly emulated in the film’s otherwise evocative soundtrack. MTW