Toward the end of my undergrad career, I finally got my act together enough to get involved with the University of Minnesota’s student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily. I mostly wrote reviews of movies none of the other staffers wanted to see. It was a good time for the empire.
“Everybody’s Famous” review: Belgian waffling
Originally published in the Minnesota Daily, July 20, 2001
There is a certain group of American moviegoers that takes a misguided pride in seeing foreign films. These fetishists believe in the sanctity of subtitles, elevating the most mundane material to the level of art just because it was made on foreign shores. They will laugh uproariously at a French toilet joke that would be beneath them were it delivered in English. Belgium’sEverybody’s Famous was tailor-made for this audience.
A lackluster comedy with far less bite than its subject demands, the film focuses on Jean, a laid-off factory worker chasing a dream of musical stardom. Much of his ambition is projected on his teenage daughter, an awkward karaoke singer with very little talent and even less stage presence. When Jean is presented with the opportunity to kidnap Belgium’s number one pop star, he sets in motion a harebrained scheme to land his daughter on the top of the charts.
If this all sounds familiar to you, you’ve probably seen Martin Scorcese’s superb The King of Comedy. Everybody’s Famous is basically a lite-comedy remake of that chilling film, and a strong affirmation of the superiority of Scorcese’s vision. Juicy topics like media manipulation, parental tyranny and the general lust for fame are just barely grazed. Rather than making a meaningful comment on any issue, the filmmakers seem intent on keeping the whole enterprise as inoffensive as possible. With such potentially explosive material, that approach simply doesn’t work.
Aside from some rather catchy pop songs, the film’s only real redeeming quality is the lead performance of Josse De Pauw, who conveys a haunting desperation despite the relentless optimism of the rest of the proceedings. In the hands of a lesser actor, Jean’s actions could easily seem disturbing, but De Pauw maintains a sweetness that overrides such concerns.
How, with all of its glaring flaws, was Everybody’s Famous nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar? The answer lies with its distributor, Miramax Films, notorious for high pressure campaigns that garner nominations for undeserving pictures (witness the five Oscar noms for the sweet but slight Chocolat). Miramax’s marketing is a god-send for the aforementioned foreign film fetishists and a slap in the face for those who believe that countries like Belgium are fully capable of producing schlock. Compare Everybody’s Famous to similarly-themed films like The King of Comedy, Dog Day Afternoon or even Jimmy Hollywood, and it should be evident that Americans can still do it better sometimes.