To hell and back for fame

Sarah finds out that stardom isn't all it's cracked up to be in 'Starry Eyes.'

Sarah finds out that stardom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in ‘Starry Eyes.’

I wonder if writers/directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer pitched Starry Eyes as Rosemary’s Baby meets Mean Girls?

Sarah (Alexandra Essoe) is a struggling actress and waitress – at the demeaning Hooters’ clone Big Taters – running from audition to audition between paying the bills, getting no love from the casting directors and producers she bears her soul for on a regular basis. One particularly demeaning audition – where she is asked to freak out in front of the casting people like she did somewhat privately in the bathroom minutes earlier – results in a call back and the possibility of a roll that will make her a name in Hollywood. But there are some serious strings attached, and meek, sweet Sarah doesn’t seem like she’d be willing to sell her soul for fame. Or would she?

Meanwhile, Sarah finds no peace at home, either. The young filmmakers and actresses she shares her time with mostly seem intent on showing up each other and mocking the failures of their friends. One gorgeous, engaging actress pal in particular, Erin, seems to be able to jab Sarah where it hurts the most, sharply stabbing her insecurities about her own abilities and natural beauty amid the surgically enhanced plastics of the L.A. scene. While Sarah leans on them for support, she sort of resides on the edges of the group and doesn’t quite fit in.

This mix all becomes volatile when Sarah finally surrenders to the fame machine, going down on a producer who she believes will make her a star for sexually servicing him. Sarah has sealed the deal, but it’s not quite the deal she thought it would be, which she finds out about the time she starts bleeding everywhere and vomiting up worms.

Essoe’s performance is make or break, and she kills it. She pulls off the insecurity of a young woman who was probably the shining star of her high school in Butte, Montana, who has come to L.A. only to find out there’s a million girls like her, and they all are vying for the same parts she is. And when the script flips and Sarah is no longer passively wandering the filmmaking landscape, taking her fate in her own hands, Essoe is convincing and disturbing.

Kolsch and Widmyer craft a film that is simultaneously surprising and not. Sarah doesn’t seem like her friends, young up-and-comers who seem like they’d all sell out in a heartbeat if the opportunity came. The duo set a deliberate pace and make the seduction of Sarah so subtle at times that you almost don’t believe it’s happening. The ending has an air of inevitability to it, but that’s because this isn’t The Sixth Sense, relying on a twist to sell the proceedings. Starry Eyes is more of a horror character study, watching the de-evolution of a young woman being pounded into sausage in the Hollywood grinder.

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