The kernel of Simone is Frankenstein — as a Hollywood romantic comedy. Writer-director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) revises and updates the operating system of Mary Shelley’s seminal monster story from the ground up, destroying its mythic resonance. Niccol cuts out Victor Frankenstein’s horror and pastes in its polar opposite: director Viktor Taransky’s virtual pop-culture goddess, an ingenue flirting with femme fatality.
Taransky (Al Pacino) has entered the fall stage of his meteoric Hollywood career arc. When his mercurial leading lady, Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder), abandons the set of his labor of love, Eternity Forever, in midproduction, even Taransky’s producer and ex-wife Elaine Christian (Catherine Keener), can’t save him. He plunges overnight into the murkiest depths of show biz: No one takes his calls.
Mad computer scientist Hank Aleno (Elias Koteas) takes the opportunity to push his labor of love onto the director now without a picture: his digital actress program with the working title of “Simulation One.” Taransky deletes a few characters and the title begets his secret joke of a name: Sim One, “Simone” (cover girl-model Rachel Roberts). The director is literally back in business. He constructs a “synthesbian” version of Venus from Hank’s software and “a star is ... created.” Well, “digitized.”
With Simone inserted, Eternity Forever becomes a critical and popular hit. And as Simone’s rise escapes the hands of her creator, the question becomes who made whom, at least for a while.
Though Niccol’s satire cuts a broad but often subtle swath through the cult of media celebrity, his criticism, unlike in his previous plots (he also scripted The Truman Show), is reduced to occasional soap-box statements on the ills of mass media. The central cinematic syntax here is a disguised (at times, thinly) fairy-tale romantic comedy, complete with an unequivocal feel-good ending that recalls Spielberg. The message ends up recognizing (and accepting with a shrug and a smirk) the artificiality in which our world is steeped.
Despite Pacino’s best performance since The Insider (1999) and Roberts’ uncanny wistful beauty, Simone is a well-made yet almost forgettable entertainment. As I walked out of the black box of the theater, my mind deleted all but a ghostly feeling of a world gone wrong.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].