When his lead actress, Nicola Anders walks out, failing director, Viktor Taransky is in something of a bind. He's just lost the best actress in Hollywood, and no-one else will touch him, or his films. Despite the film being pretty much finished, Anders' people will sue if her image appears on a single frame. The production company, lead by Viktor's estranged wife, Elaine Christian, want to shelve the picture, and although this is the last thing Viktor wants, he can't see a way out. Despite this, when an admirer of his, Hank Aleno, offers him a computer program capable of replicating the movements of a real person as a replacement for his actress, Viktor refuses, disbelieving Aleno's claims of how accurately his program mimics reality.
However, when Hank dies, Viktor is left with the program, and knowing he has nothing to lose, decide to try it.
The computer generated actress, Simone (Simulation One) is an instant success. Although terrified at first that he and his actress would be revealed as fakes, Viktor slowly relaxes as he realises that people want to believe in Simone, who is an instant success.
With Simone having done her job, and restored his career, Viktor wishes to retire her. But Simone's adoring public just won't let him.
Al Pacino's Viktor Taransky, is the main character. The drunken (he may not be drunk, but he certainly looks it) director is clearly past his prime. His last few films failed at the box office, his wife left him, and his new film is riddled with problems.
Elaine Christian, his ex-wife and producer, played by Catherine Keener, is, frankly, unlikeable. A hard-nosed career woman, with few endearing elements, she's more irritating than anything. This is made up for, by her and Viktor's daughter, Lainey, played by Evan Rachel Wood. Although some of her lines are a little wooden and not entirely realistic, she is at least a likable character.
Winona Ryder plays the part of bitchy, arrogant actress, Nicola Anders well. So well, in fact, that I'm tempted to add a comment about typecasting. Many of the characters are unlikable, in various elements, and several are slightly irritating.
Simone herself was played by unknown actress, Rachel Roberts, merged with CGI in several scenes. The use of an unknown was purposeful, in order to confuse the audience as to her reality or lack thereof. When Simone is acting, she's wonderfully chintzy, over-dramatic and artsy in the way of bad, overly self-absorbed films, which is a purposeful effect. When she's speaking as a computer - more often than not, mimicking Taransky's actions - she does so accurately, and with little emotion, which, again, is the desired effect.
In many ways the film is slightly too surreal to be true-to-life, instead, providing a subtle social commentary on, and making fun of, Hollywood norms. The complete ridiculousness of certain scenes is oddly humorous, although, somewhat scary to acknowledge is the fact that the more ridiculous of scenes are the most likely to actually happen. Taransky also mentions, several times, the amount of power actors have over films, despite being one of the least important elements, a sentiment echoed by author/scriptwriter William Goldman, in many of his works.
Interestingly, the film somewhat mimics the real life story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes made him famous, but when he decided to retire him and work on his other novels, there was a public outcry. Despite killing him off (by throwing him off the Reichenback falls), Holmes just wouldn't stay dead, and even today completely overshadows Conan Doyle's other works.
In summary, the film is funny, slightly thought-provoking, and sometimes sweet, although just not interesting enough to watch over and over. It is something I've come back to every so often over the years, and the story is somewhat absorbing. It's a pretty good film, although not one of the best.
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