The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, as the saying goes. Factory Girl proves how accurate that is. Director George Hickenlooper and writers Aaron Richard Golub and Captain Mauzner set out to dramatize the life of Edie Sedgwick in a way that would make us feel sorry for the tragic Warhol Superstar. But Hickenlooper, Golub and Mauzner eschew such trivialities as compelling screenwriting, deft character development, skillful direction and steady editing in service to a resulting film so outrageously inane that it borders on being offensive.
Within the first five minutes of Factory Girl, we follow Edie (Sienna Miller), via voice-over narration (the crutch of the weak filmmaker), from a rehab clinic in California to an art school in New England to a New York City jaunt with "flamboyant playboy" Chuck Wein (Jimmy Fallon) to a hip art show where Edie meets Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce) to Warhol's silver-coated Factory, where Edie quickly ingratiates herself. We're never given a moment to process who we're watching, what they're doing, where they are and why we should care.
Part of the problem is that everyone talks in catchphrases and taglines. I don't know if the screenwriters thought that making every conversation exist as a bite-sized self-righteous pontification about nothing translated into heady dialogue, but it simply doesn't work. Nor does the spastic direction and editing. We're never with a scene — or a character or an emotion or a place or a moment — for more than a couple minutes. So quick is the editing here that it makes MTV in its prime seem downright geriatric. Those first five minutes, with a steadier hand at the controls, should take much longer to get through. A better director would inform us more about who we're watching and why we should care. Hickenlooper thinks otherwise, that simply dumping everything and anything onto the screen as quickly as possible is enough for a compelling film. What he fails to realize is that cinema is a marathon, not a sprint, and just because he tells the Edie Sedgwick story in 90 minutes rather than 120 doesn't make him a master storyteller.
That failure results in a film where characters are never allowed to become three-dimensional. We're bombarded with how tragic Edie is even as she's living the high life as America's Next It Girl. But who cares? We're rushed through her Factory years so quickly that it's impossible to feel anything but shrugging indifference towards her. Not only does that make the ending of the film — Edie walking away from the camera, out of the California rehab clinic and into the warm glow of the California sun and security of an on-screen written epilogue (a sequence ripped, I'm sure, straight from a Lifetime Original Movie) — an utterly forced, wholly unearned conclusion, but it makes earlier scenes of Edie tripped out and used up almost laughable rather than tragic.
Similarly, Warhol is presented as the heavy in the film without ever being given a chance to develop. When Billy Quinn (Hayden Christensen), a preachy folk singer so obviously Bob Dylan that's it's comical, tries to woo Edie away from Warhol by calling him a "blood-sucker," we're supposed to react with, "Yeah, Edie! Get away from Warhol!" Instead, it's met with a bewildered, "Really?" Hickenlooper paints Warhol, the Factory and the Factory crowd with such broad strokes that, if this were a silent film, they'd all be trying to tie Edie down to a train track.
The fact is that Warhol is in the film because he was as linked to Edie in those years as she was with him. For him not to be there would be inexcusable. But conceptualizing him as a vacuous, almost non-entity, his villainy created only by the occasional soundbite from those around him about how he's a bad guy, is just as wrong. Warhol as a real-life artist can exist on his own terms. People know who he is and what kind art he created. Warhol as a character in a film can't exist that way, especially when he's being molded into something that exists beyond the public persona. Hickenlooper and company fail to realize the importance of developing the Warhol character by wrongly thinking that, since everyone knows Warhol, their work is that much easier.
Ultimately, the problems inherent in Factory Girl rise out of Hickenlooper, Golub and Mauzner not having the slightest conception of who Edie was, nor the scene she was a part of. The film is rife with historical inaccuracies, both related to characters and situations. Warhol's Screen Tests, for example, are wholly misrepresented in the film as confessionals when, in reality, they were reel-length moving portraits with no sound or conversation. It's a small problem among many other, larger ones, but it's indicative of how sloppily the film is executed.
But worse than that, the three filmmakers trivialize Edie, Warhol, the Factory and the era itself. They attempted to glorify and honor the sad tragedy of Edie Sedgwick. Thanks to their failures as creative storytellers, the result is an epic travesty.
A version of this piece was published at Blogcritics.org.