REVIEW: Ellie Parker (Scott Coffey, 2005)

In 2001 Scott Coffey made a short film called Ellie Parker concerning an hour or so in the life of a struggling actress in Los Angeles. In the title role of the film was Naomi Watts, an actress Coffey met when he acted alongside her in Tank Girl (as her half-man half-kangaroo love interest, no less) and Mulholland Drive. A few years later, the the two talents reunited to expand the 20-minute short into a feature and re-release it. Watts had become significantly more famous in the elapsed time having starred in several popular and highly acclaimed films, but she was happy to return to the Ellie character and further develop the story of this neurotic, audition-hopping woman, her relationships and psychological tribulations.

Coffey's barren budget made for an extremely loose shooting schedule (if you could call it a schedule) and he's very lucky to have the full film. The crew consisted of him and only him with the exception of a few days on which he had a sound guy or an extra camera op. The genuinely handheld, practically lit style here works a lot better than the feigned handheld style of films like The Bourne Supremacy. With this style we can relate immediately and feel like we are watching a character who is keeping her head above water financially while being lost in L.A.'s small-scale acting world. Much of the cinematography is improvised therefore giving the impression of a home video with dramatic thrust.

In one of the scenes directly from the original short, a casting director reminds the lead character that the film she's trying out for will be shot on a DV camera, so her performance needs to be raw. This is a perfect set-up for what lies ahead while Watts gives herself over to Ellie, uncompromisingly portraying her core elements and most private moments. She is given a lot to do and a lot of freedom to do it with, and makes for the key reason the film is recommendable - without her, there would be no film. Complimenting her performance is the aforementioned home video style of the piece - it is almost as if the camera is the frenetic utensil with which she writes her diary and what we are exposed to is what she writes, though not as directly as in something like Ben Coccio's Zero Day. Other recognizable actors featured are Mark Pellegrino, Johanna Ray and Chevy Chase.

While the film is interesting enough to watch thanks to Watts, however, it doesn't leave any lasting impressions. From Ellie's perspective I feel I have learned something about the grind of the low-level audition process, but not much else. It also lacks a beginning and end even though it seems to tease at the idea that it contains a complete journey. We could come into the story at any point, thrown in a bit of character development where necessary and get the same results.

Ellie Parker is worth the rent to see what it's all about but probably best left as a one-night stand.