Though he referred to her pseudonymously, Andy Warhol said that the fascination he felt about Edie Sedgwick was "probably very close to a certain kind of love." Factory Girl—George Hickenlooper's film about Sedgwick's time around Warhol—is probably very close to a certain kind of film, and yet not quite. The stuff of Sedgwick's thoroughly photographed life would doubtless make an engrossing documentary (a genre to which Hickenlooper ought to stick), but Factory Girl is another in a long series of failed movies insisting that every famous person deserves her or his "fifteen minutes" of biopic.
In a much-hyped breakthrough performance, Sienna Miller acquits herself just fine as Sedgwick while Guy Pearce nails Warhol, but only infrequently can they move beyond Captain Mauzner's overly indicative dialogue. Factory Girl follows Sedgwick from art school to Warhol's art-collective loft, the Factory. Singled out for her beauty, fashion sense, and je ne sais quoi, Edie becomes for a time the "Superstar" of Warhol's experimental films. As the film has it, Sedgwick feels objectified, dismissed, and ultimately supplanted, the process triggering her vulnerability to substance abuse and disabling mental problems.
Mauzner dramatizes Sedgwick's turning point as her relationship with "Musician" (mumbly Hayden Christensen), a presumable composite character depicted in every way but name as Bob Dylan. Dylan knew Sedgwick for a time, and rumors have long suggested that "Just Like a Woman" and other Blonde on Blonde tracks may have referred to Sedgwick. No evidence of a romantic relationship has emerged, and not for lack of trying on the filmmakers' parts. [Dylan's lawsuits ultimately failed to block the film's release, but succeeded in giving the film publicity.] The Dylan controversy—as well as the ol' bogus "are they or aren't they having actual sex on screen?" ploy regarding the Christensen-Miller love scene—prove that The Weinstein Factory is still well-oiled.
The Musician storyline mistakenly elevates a red herring to a key plot point, and provides the opportunity not only for the film's only love scene but yards of cheap, whole-cloth dialogue. "You're an overpaid prophet, and I'm a poor little rich girl," Edie tells Musician. Shortly thereafter they retire to the bedroom, while Warhol sits in the dark alone, watching a film of Edie. The cockfight between Musician and the supposedly jealous Warhol (didn't he have bigger fish to fry?) precipitates Sedgwick being left out in the cold by both men, her drug abuse leading to sexual abuse and a return trip to the mental institution where she spent her late teens.
But what's it all about, Edie? We learn little of Edie's appeal that a still photo wouldn't tell us (other than she hath charms to soothe a savage horse). Rather, Factory Girl unfolds the story of a victim ill-equipped to recover from childhood abuse. Slow revenge against daddy (played, briefly, by James Naughton) constitutes a directionless squandering of trust fund and potential: the end. The rest is all glib misdirection, as when Warhol tells Sedgwick to be herself, and she replies, "Which one?"
The sex, drugs, and rock and roll tale takes a last stab at legitimacy with the now-requisite reel-to-real credit montage of talking heads, including interview footage of Warhol proving that Guy Pearce's embodiment of the artist is spot-on at capturing the man and his emotional mystery. Like the rest of Factory Girl, Pearce's effort gets us nowhere--it's the real-life clip itself that teaches us something about Warhol's embarrassment regarding Edie.
Stories like Edie's demonstrate a failure on the part of friends (and arguably a blameless one) to save a lost soul from her own demons. Hickenlooper goes a step further, accusing Warhol of sucking Sedgwick's blood, particularly in the filming of "Beauty #2." But in exaggerating that film into a sort of date rape, in making it a metaphor for Sedgwick's exploitation at the hands of men of stronger will, Hickenlooper must tell his "truth" with an aggressive lie. Unsurprisingly, the fictionalized "true story" fails to replicate this poor little rich girl's talent for being fascinating.