Hollywood: It’s a place where people go to make dreams come true. Unfortunately, the greater Los Angeles area is better known for nightmares than dreams. Beyond the glitter and glam is a urine-soaked cesspool where legions of attention whores desperately seek out validation, like a junkie in need of a fix. These poor, damaged souls wander around from audition to audition, like the walking dead, with their headshots and résumés clutched in their sweaty palms as they mumble lines from a freshly printed set of sides. If there is a hell on Earth, surely it is Los Angeles—and the damned that inhabit it are actors waiting for a big break.
Jesse (Jesse O’Neill) is one of those poor bastards who auditions by day and waits tables by night. Unfortunately, his male pattern baldness is limiting his potential to find work. All of that changes when he discovers a wig that seemingly solves all his problems. With new synthetic hair providing much-needed confidence, Jesse nails an audition and gets a part on a network pilot. The celebration is short-lived when he catches his girlfriend making sweet love to a chicken. With his life in a perpetual state of disarray, Jesse finds some comfort with a new method-acting roommate, pinning much of his hopes on the one role he’s been able to land.
Jesse, with his bald head and hangdog expression, reminds me of a West Coast Charlie Brown. Watching him suffer countless indignities almost screams “wah! wah!” on trombone. I almost can see the black cloud forming over his furrowed brow. The story isn’t exactly anything new. Sometimes it seems there are as many films about the behind-the-scenes process of the movie business as there are young actors desperate for their first break. What helps separate “Actor for Hire” is a broader approach to the comedy.
At its core, “Actor for Hire” reminded me of Doug Liman’s “Swingers.” There’s a vibe and feeling that echoes the independent classic. “Swingers” was more about the characters that inhabit the Hollywood wannabe actor scene. “Actor for Hire” is a more satirical examination of the process of being an up-and-comer. It’s a more situational, broader approach to the same type of story, and relies on the traditional comedic set-up and delivery—like a bastard love child of “Swingers” and “Bowfinger.”
Jesse’s journey to finally finding success is entertaining, but there are some nifty little subplots that manage to steal the movie away. A cutaway noir sequence, featuring Jesse’s roommate Jandreas, is the kind of strange, meta moment that makes “Actor for Hire” more than a traditional comedy. If I was lobbing any real criticisms here, it’s that I find its supporting characters more interesting than the protagonist. While Jesse’s story is entertaining, the cavalcade of supporting characters truly shine. Whether it’s Jesse’s acting friends trying to deliver the perfect audition tape or the dickhead agent who’s only interested when things are going well, the characters draw in the audience. Jesse often times gets smothered by the ridiculous supporting cast who steal scenes left and right.
I like “Actor for Hire.” It’s an apt film for Cucalorus (or any film festival)—an earnest independent comedy with an ensemble cast working overtime for entertainment.