Ellie Parker

To call this actor Scott Coffey's four-year labor of love would insinuate that the movie was well-made, possibly exquisitely photographed or even meticulously edited.

Ain't so. Most junior-high class projects have higher production quality. Ellie Parker is very much evidence of what one well-connected man can do when he scrapes together a few big names (Keanu Reeves and Chevy Chase make cameos) and a few thousand bucks. Yet, besides the shoddy cinematography, Coffey's full-length expansion of his 2001 short film by the same title shows he has some promise as a filmmaker — or least a generous friend in star Naomi Watts.

Coffey's possibly best known as the dorky guy from the '80s teen music drama Satisfaction, a movie shot back in the day when Justine Bateman was a bigger draw than Julia Roberts — sweet, sweet nostalgia. David Lynch fans will also recognize him from Mulholland Drive, a movie about an actress trying to break into Hollywood that was, ironically, Watts' big break.

Ellie Parker is also about a struggling, undeserving loser of an actress. Coffey undoubtedly owes it to Watts' rising star that he got whatever meager funding it took to stretch the story into a full feature. But why Watts went along with the deal is hard to fathom.

Whatever the case, Watts holds nothing back playing the desperately out-of-work Aussie actress in Los Angeles who can't catch a break in her career or personal life. Coffey, who also wrote the script and shot most of the movie, subjects Watts to a litany of humiliations, and the starlet dives headfirst into each one.

In the course of the film, Watts barfs up neon blue ice cream, smokes a joint and gets freaky with her stoner boyfriend in a bathtub, wears a frilly Southern belle frock to an audition, gets smashed and fumbles at chatting up Keanu, performs idiotic acting exercises and Dumpster dives for a phone number for a booty call. You have to think that at some point, Watts could have politely declined — and that makes it all the more fun to watch.

On the other hand, it wouldn't have hurt to steer Coffey away from at least a few of the struggling actor and unlucky duck clichés that he throws at Ellie. Probably the worst is when Coffey himself, playing the object of her booty call, turns to Ellie and says, "Well, now I know I am gay."

However, there are some hilarious, more inventive moments where Ellie struggles to retain her dignity. In the opening sequence, she volleys from one ridiculous audition to the next, changing into a miniskirt and knee-high, spiky-heeled boots while driving her little Honda through Hollywood and sorting out her love life and career on the phone. Watts is so endearingly earnest as she slathers on bright red lipstick and practices her dialogue with a New York dialect in the rearview mirror that, at that point, we're aware just why Watts' star has risen, just as surely as Ellie's star is going to crash and burn.

Even in scenes that Watts obviously returned to shoot with Coffey well after she'd made it in Hollywood (the constantly changing hairstyles are a dead giveaway), she brings him a forceful and frenetic performance.

Either Coffey's a genius at inspiring greatness, or Watts is just a dedicated pal. Probably the latter, but regardless, she makes Ellie's 95-minute-long string of punishments — and the film's raw, amateurish photography masquerading as style — worth enduring.


Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 13. Call 313-833-3237.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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