Edie Sedgwick, heiress and artist, was the it-girl of her day. She was a bright but damaged woman, a product of a wealthy but deeply dysfunctional family. Her brother Minty hung himself in a mental institution (after coming out to and being rejected by the strict Sedgwick patriarch); Edie was also hospitalised after catching her father having an affair. After dropping out of art school she fell in with Andy Warhol and his factory crowd, where she became the artist’s friend and muse, his “superstar”.
Sienna Miller certainly looks the part: smoky eyes and endless eyelashes; a glimmer of something fearful and uncomprehending in her face. She speaks with an Audrey Hepburn-esque twang throughout, the reason for which becomes apparent when she reveals her obsession with Breakfast at Tifffany’s to her musician lover midway through the film. But she’s hampered by a weak script; we get to see her messy descent into drug addiction, and the callous manner in which she was abandoned by Warhol, but learn very little about her.
Sedgwick was a tragic figure; dead of a drug overdose at the age of 28, but the potential poignancy is lacking. George Hickenlooper’s film seems far more interested in Warhol, whom it depicts as a emotionless freak, laying the blame for her rapid demise almost squarely at his feet. Guy Pearce, with his icy portrait of Warhol, gives the film its shape, its centre, but again it never manages to get under his (gaunt, mottled and pallid) skin.
His Warhol is like a magpie, drawn to glittering things. He is upset when, at a party, Norman mailer punches someone else and not him. When Sedgwick starts dating another man (billed only as ‘The Musician’ but who bears a distinct resemblance to a certain famous folk singer), he grows tired of her, and soon moves on to someone new.
The factory scene too is dismissed as faintly unpleasant and laughable, eating up the vulnerable and creating little more than grainy semi-pornographic offerings. We find out little about the other inhabitants of this world; the secondary characters, including Sedgeick’s chilly and sinister parents, remain stubbornly one-dimensional. Sienna Miller does what she can with thin material, but it’s safe to say that in a year or so the fact that she went for the underwear-as-outerwear look at the premier will be remembered more than her performance. She has a certain open-faced charm though, and I doubt even a stronger actress could have pulled this rather clumsy film together.
Hickenlooper’s direction has flashes of inspiration but he falls back on stock tricks far too often (a bit of fast-motion to convey the druggy factory atmosphere; a ‘Hey, look we’re in Paris’ montage). The film’s tepid ending lacks any real emotional punch and its essential message is flawed: with a background like hers, Sedgwick’s messy life wasn’t all the fault of her entanglement with Warhol.
By oversimplifying things, Hickenlooper has done a disservice to both Sedgwick and his audience, creating a film that feels much longer than its 90 minutes; dull and not particularly moving. Pearce acquits himself well, with a memorable performance as Warhol, but otherwise Factory Girl is a real disappointment.