“Factory Girl” is a film chiefly concerned with the tension between superficiality and authenticity, between surface and depth. And yet writer-director team Captain Mauzner and George Hickenlooper (who also worked together on “Wonderland”) were unable to see beyond the glittering surface of ’60s It Girl Edie Sedgwick.
Then again, perhaps there is a more fundamental problem with “Factory Girl” — even after watching the film, it remains unclear why Sedgwick’s life warranted a biopic. Considered in the context of the myriad young Americans who died of drug overdoses in the late 1960s, what about Edie Sedgwick’s life, in particular, justifies the production of a film? It seems that the glam waif was interesting only insofar as she was a symbol, an icon standing in for the youth culture of an era. Although fast-paced and glamorous, to be sure, perhaps Edie’s life was simply not interesting in its own right — or more importantly, if it was, Mauzner and Hickenlooper have failed to show us how.
“Factory Girl” is little more than a heavy-handed and simplistic interpretation of Edie’s life that reduces her to the stereotypical tragic victim of a series of sadistic and abusive men. Although Hickenlooper has attempted to make Edie a sympathetic character, she remains too distant for an emotional connection but not distant enough to be mere cultural icon. That being said, Sienna Miller’s portrayal of the skinny blue blood with a penchant for thick black eyeliner and epically large earrings is precise, to say the least. Miller is captivating as Edie (the physical resemblance is striking as well), expressing both her emotional and physical fragility and her burdensome self-awareness about being a cultural product with a certain fury.
The film begins with the young debutante ditching art school for the enticing call of Manhattan, where it takes her little time or effort to charm the peculiar Andy Warhol (a skulking, creepy genius played with accurately cutting indifference by Guy Pearce). Sedgwick soon finds herself seduced by the punk-charm of Warhol’s “Silver Factory,” and the drawling, enigmatic Warhol begins to cast Edie as the star of many of his underground films (notably, the aptly titled “Poor Little Rich Girl”). Thus the birth of a malnourished, platinum-haired friendship — though the film sheds little light on what exactly it was that made Sedgwick and Warhol such appropriate companions, connecting them only through their mutual narcissism and their compatible desires to abuse and be abused.
In an attempt to give the surface-obsessed “Factory Girl” some depth, Edie’s relationship with Warhol devolves into a faux love triangle of sorts. Caught in the spotlight she so eagerly sought, Edie finds herself torn between Warhol and an unnamed musician (played by Hayden Christensen) who is obviously intended to invoke the memory and image of a certain messianic folk icon with a slightly nasal drawl.
Ignoring the fact that any alleged love affair between Sedgwick and Bob Dylan is probably false, the filmmakers nevertheless thrust Edie into a tug-of-war between the two men. In its search for substance, “Factory Girl” imagines a power struggle between Dylan and Warhol, in which the former represents a paragon of authenticity and inner-truth, the latter a champion of superficiality. Yet it seems foolish to imply that Warhol was unequivocally shallow. His art managed to throw the mundane back in the faces of the American public and somehow make them like it; to reduce it to a mere obsession with surfaces seems to miss the point entirely. Not to mention that both Dylan and Warhol are too gigantic to be used as mere supporting characters in such a trifling story.
Thus, while the film’s surfaces are glittering and engaging, it seems, as it was with Edie Sedgwick herself, there is little more to “Factory Girl” than meets the eye.