Handsome, homeless, prophetically named Toby Grace (Michael Pitt) is at a low ebb when he stumbles across a pack of paparazzi stalking pop tart K'Harma Leeds (Alison Lohman). They send him on a coffee run, and by the end of the night he's wheedled a bed for the night out of feral, name-dropping, second-string celebrity photographer Les Galantine (Steve Buscemi): Les' grungy Chinatown apartment isn't much, but it beats the New York streets. Les puts on a show of not wanting Toby around, but he's secretly desperate for an audience, and Toby, who has vague ambitions to act, hangs on his stories of celebrity and glamour. Les graciously allows Toby to run errands for him, and teaches him the ropes of working a tip and scamming food and goody bags at press events. After Toby helps Les score a lucratively embarrassing photo of B-list star Chuck Sirloin (Jack Gwaltney) leaving the hospital after penis surgery, Les dubs him an unpaid "assistant" and upgrades him to his own room a closet in the hallway. Les even introduces him to casting agent Dana (Gina Gershon), who's equally struck by Toby's amiable naivete and teen-heartthrob looks and takes him under her only slightly predatory wing. At a press event, Toby crosses paths with the lonely, unhappy K'Harma and they wind up spending a long, sweetly chaste night together. Suddenly Toby is effortlessly entering the ranks of the beautiful and famous, while Les' face is still pressed against the glass.
For all its timeliness, DiCillo's film is a tender fable rather than a razor-sharp dissection of idol worship and fame-driven fantasies, and it's gently sympathetic to its cast of hustlers, hangers-on and prefab stars. Even Les' creepy self-delusion is more sad than creepy, and DiCillo nails the details, from Les' piles of "collectible" junk and his hollow insistence that celebrities are no better than paparazzi to his career high points: photos of Goldie Hawn eating lunch and Elvis Costello (who appears as himself) without his trademark hat. Buscemi's twitchy, sweaty performance is the film's anchor (and an interesting counterpoint to 2007's INTERVIEW, in which he plays a flawed journalist entangled in a manipulative starlet's machinations), but Pitt's Toby is its counterpoint. More-experienced actors have come a cropper trying to play unworldliness and fundamental decency which isn't to say that Toby is above allowing himself to be used but Pitt never misses a step. leave a comment --Maitland Mcdonagh
Writer-director Tom DiCillo's short, sharp snapshot about celebrity and life on the fringe has nothing new to say, but it says it with considerable charm and affection.