The Real Blonde Review
Teenage Fanclub were a Glasgow band of the nineties who were signed to Creation Records before that label's breakthrough with the later Oasis. Teenage Fanclub shamelessly peddled their influences in the music they produced, which included such typical indie bands as Big Star, The Byrds, Love and Neil Young. In each and every song Teenage Fanclub recorded, they clearly indicated the extent of their ambition - a good review in the NME. They were so utterly, spinelessly indie, it would make you weep. Why is this relevant? Well, The Real Blonde is to film what Teenage Fanclub is to music - whiny, pale, socially backward and limp-wristed. Instead of a commercial DVD release, the director ought to have sent you a disc he burnt himself with a poorly photocopied sleeve. It's that indie.
The Real Blonde stars Matthew Modine and Catherine Keener as a mid-30's couple, Joe and Mary, living in an apartment in New York. Joe is an aspiring actor working as a waiter under the management of maitre 'd Ernst (Lloyd) alongside his good friend Bob, who also wants to be an actor but unlike Joe, is prepared to take parts in soap operas and advertisements when offered. Indeed, when Bob is given a contract for a regular part on a terrible terrible daytime soap, he jumps at the chance. Joe's principles are tested somewhat when his new agent Dee Dee (Turner) gets him a part in a Madonna video and tells him that if he doesn't take it then there is nothing more she can do for him. Mary works as a make-up artist at a fashion photographers but is becoming more frustrated both at Joe's inability to find work as an actor as well as the comments regarding her sexuality and body that are directed towards her when she walks to and from work. She even finds that her therapist is coming onto her despite recommending that she go to a women's self-defence class run by Doug (Leary). As much as Doug appears to want to help the women in his class he also gets a kick by verbally harassing them.
Joe and Mary, like a large number of modern couples, effectively lead separate lives, which are further complicated by their friends including Bob and a model favoured by Mary's boss, Sahara (Bridgette Wilson). Although Joe and Mary are unaware of the fact, Bob and Sahara are having a relationship but Bob's problem is that he is obsessed with meeting a woman who is a real blonde, which Sahara is not. When Bob's co-star in the daytime soap, Kelly (Hannah), reveals that she is, Bob welcomes her advances. Will these relationships end happily and will Joe finally get through to Madonna after finding a voicemail from her...
Tom diCillo wrote and directed The Real Blonde in 1997 following Living In Oblivion (his most famous film) and Box Of Moonlight. Where Living In Oblivion was a pointed look at the world of low-budget independent filmmaking partially based on diCillo's own experiences on his earlier Johnny Suede, The Real Blonde lets diCillo view the worlds of acting and fashion with the same type of satire that made the earlier film a success.
In getting directly to the point, The Real Blonde is not awfully good. Filmmakers have a problem when they start to look at the fashion industry, typically with a view to mocking it as they might once have done with the movie business. Robert Altman had exactly the same problem in making Pret a Porter after The Player. Being outsiders to this business, filmmakers try to become more involved in the fashion business and to absorb what makes it work. However, instead of becoming increasingly bitter at the tired attempts by the editors of fashion magazines to laud the latest collections by designers reworking the same cuts of clothing, filmmakers tend to become enamoured by being surrounded by dazzlingly attractive women, outrageous designers and a press pack that acts utterly without shame. How, really and honestly, could Altman or diCillo even begin to satirise someone who is already as ludicrously posed as Karl Lagerfeld or write a line as capable of defining supermodels as effectively as Linda Evangelista did when she stated, " don't wake up for less than $10,000 a day"? The truth is that they can't and the films made to satirise the fashion industry are forgiving and toothless and could almost be written as puff-pieces by the editors of Vogue. The Real Blonde is no different with being so adoring of models and fashion photography that any point the movie is trying to make about the exploitation of models' bodies get lost in the attempt to capture the sight of beautiful women on film.
Unfortunately, that is not the only problem with this film. Like Altman, diCillo has assembled quite a large cast but unlike in, say, MASH or Nashville, diCillo's stories get lost around each character and the central plot, that of the relationship between Joe and Mary, becomes unfocused, so much so that the audience won't really care who ends up with whom. Although, given that diCillo actually picks the worst possible relationships with which to conclude his film mean that even after the film is over, you'll care even less than you did when watching it.
As a positive comment, there are two scenes of note - one in which Modine argues down an assistant director who denies that the Holocaust took place and another when a claim by Modine that Jane Campion's The Piano was no good gets a whole restaurant talking about it but both feel like they've been lifted from other films. The scene with Modine and the AD really feels as though Kevin Smith had a hand in its writing - truly it sounds like a riff out of Clerks - whereas the scene in the restaurant ought to have been in a Woody Allen movie. As funny as both scenes are, diCillo has failed to make the film in which to place them and you suspect that they were added when he was told that his movie wasn't funny enough.
Finally, whilst Catherine Keener and Matthew Modine are good, particularly the latter, the rest of the cast are barely phoning in their performances. It is worth a special mention to say that the decision to cast Maxwell Caulfield seems like a joke that no one's getting. Caulfield, in case you didn't know, once starred in The Colbys, which was an offshoot from Dynasty and since the eighties, has been getting work cast in such roles as 'Man in Bathrobe' in 1993's Calendar Girl. Now, were Caulfield only onscreen during those scenes in which the daytime soap was being recorded then his atrocious acting could have been explained but the problem is that his acting throughout the movie is terrible, just terrible.
The film goes nowhere, says nothing and will only give you an insight into relationships if you've never left your bedroom. Even then, there are better films you could use to discover what love might mean.
The film has been anamorphically transferred in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and looks fine if unspectacular. Whilst the image is sharp with good colour reproduction, diCillo's direction is flat and uninspired, which offers little in the way of a memorable DVD image.
The Real Blonde is presented with a 2.0 Stereo soundtrack and sounds perfectly acceptable given that the film is dialogue-heavy. To be honest, a 5.1 surround remix would have been quite pointless and even as it is, whilst there is little separation between the left and right channels, it's fine.
The Real Blonde has been released with no extras whatsoever.
I don't object to indie films as such. I'm a huge fan of Hal Hartley - I think the guy makes amazing films - but this is awful. diCillo demonstrates the tendacy of independent filmmakers to show a dreary lack of ambition, sticking doggedly to making the kind of movie he must have considered would go down well at the Sundance Film Festival. Forget any pretensions as to how he was at least keeping it real - lazily-made independent films are just as bad as the kind of dumb action movies that star van Damme and The Real Blonde is the equivalent of Legionnaire. Anyone who thinks that Teenage Fanclub's Grand Prix is as daring as music gets might find something of interest here, otherwise forget about The Real Blonde.