A review of “Simone” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

 

 

Hollywood is the land of illusion, a reality hammered home in this sharp satire of desperation and cinematic deception.

To what lengths will a washed-up director go to salvage his career?  Viktor Taranksy (Al Pacino) is a man teetering on the precipice, looking down at the ruins of a brilliant profession.  When Viktor’s A-list actress Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder in a wickedly bitchy cameo) abruptly drops out of his current film, the studio agrees to cut its losses and shelve the picture.

In a moment of movie magic, Viktor is approached by a shadowy, eccentric software genius (Elias Koteas), who assures Viktor that a pinch of computer code and a dash of pixels is all it will take to put him back on top.  Voila!, Simone, a fully re-created and computer-generated “actress” with the infinite nuances of a real human being.

Simone is an overnight sensation. Her restrained performance in her much ballyhooed debut indie is a smash.  Naturally no one is the wiser, since the “performance” was digitally dropped in after the live-action actors had packed up and gone home.  Viktor insists that Simone “works alone”, thus maintaining his synthetic celebrity’s reputation as a recluse in the grand tradition of Greta Garbo.  It’s an enduring fact of life that people will believe what they want to believe, and what they want to believe is that Simone is a Superstar.

While Viktor is going to reckless lengths to keep Simone’s techno-identity a secret from his family, her fans, and the studio execs, he’s cracking under the pressure of subterfuge.  Ex-wife Elaine (the delightfully edgy Catherine Keener) struggles to keep her emotional distance while Viktor’s “It” factor rockets off the charts. Opening act (or two) is shrewdly thought-provoking (thanks to “Truman Show” scribe Andrew Niccol), but a weak plotline involving a sleazy tabloid investigation drags the film to the finish line with a disappointing and sentimental conclusion.  

“Simone” is a split personality of a film – a drama, a comic satire, and a cautionary tale of technology. Its entertainment value is golden, but the noteworthy themes are mired in gray. Are we faced with a future of virtual actors? How deeply can we descend into the dehumanization process, and at what cost? “Simone” downloads virtual files full of uncertainties, and leaves the answers floating in cyberspace.