Directed by Scott Coffey. Starring Naomi Watts, Rebecca Rigg, Scott Coffey, Mark Pellegrino, Chevy Chase. (2005, NR, 95 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 9, 2005
After spending nearly a year on the top-flight festival circuit, it’s probably not coincidental that this Naomi Watts performance showcase has just recently been slipping into theatres that are presently readying themselves for the onslaught of King Kong, starring Watts as the woman who would be Fay Wray. Although the Aussie-born actress caught some nice breaks with her roles in Mulholland Drive and The Ring and has a list of film credits that’s already longer than the number of years she’s been alive, she has yet to connect in a major way with the American audience. Kong will probably change all that, but if you harbor any doubts about the breadth of her skills, Ellie Parker is the film to see. Lord knows there’s no other reason to see this movie. The first feature of actor-turned-director Coffey (and produced by Coffey and Watts), Ellie Parker has little to recommend it other than Watts’ mercurial performance. Having begun life as a short film, Ellie was mistakenly expanded to feature length. The film’s episodic nature and lack of any functional storyline are no doubt results of this history. Watts stars as the titular character, a struggling actress with a particular flair for accents. We watch as she goes from audition to audition morphing from a Southern belle into a Brooklyn whore in the course of a frantic drive across town, tossing articles of clothing in the air as she does a quick change while driving and rehearsing over and over lines like, "I sucked his cock. I sucked it good." Watts’ chameleonlike abilities are on full display, but there’s little more to this tired Hollywood rant than this. The film has nothing new to tell us about life on the lower rungs of Tinseltown, and when it pauses in front of a theatre marquee advertising a double bill of Play It Like It Lays and Day of the Locust, the reminder only makes us notice Ellie Parker’s failings all the more. Coffey’s nervous, fidgety DV camerawork grows increasingly irritating as the movie wears on, and the score by BC Smith is downright intrusive. There are small pleasures to be had in brief scenes with Chevy Chase, who is cast against type as Ellie’s agent, and Keanu Reeves in a pointless cameo with his band Dogstar. Watts is in nearly every frame of the movie, so if you’re a fan (and you should be) that’s the reason to see this.