It was probably hopeless from the start: The Warhol cosmos is too weird and complicated to lend itself to a conventional Hollywood biopic, and this one is conventional down to Warhol’s first glimpse of his future “superstar” bouncing up and down vivaciously in tacky slow motion. (The maladroitness sticks out because the expressionistic use of slow motion was one of Warhol’s indisputable triumphs as a filmmaker.) In the hands of the director, George Hickenlooper, Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller) is a rich-girl naïf who gets vampirized and then discarded by creepy Andy (Guy Pearce), despite the best efforts of “Musician” (Hayden Christensen), a Dylanesque rock star (actually, he was Dylan before Dylan threatened to sue), to rescue her from the shallows. You’d never know from the film that Edie’s persona—and bad habits—were in place well before she entered the house of freaks.
Whose bright idea was it to have Factory Girl narrated by Sedgwick, looking back from the vantage of a short-lived rehab? It kills what little mystery there is. (Was this one of Harvey Weinstein’s mandated reshoots?) Sienna Miller has enchanting moments, but she’s too conventionally beautiful—she doesn’t have Sedgwick’s gamine radiance. No, that’s not a superficial judgment: If you don’t get the surface, you don’t get the depth. Christensen might be the worst actor I’ve seen with genuine screen presence. His eyes are angry and alive, but his delivery is one part Method, one part lobotomy. Pearce’s affect (and ravaged complexion) is dead-on, but the director seems to think that the public and private Warhol were identical. He misses what might have been the movie’s central irony: that Warhol could put on and take off his persona while his “superstars” became trapped in—and destroyed by—their roles.
Factory Girl does suggest a resonant topic for future cultural-studies classes: the evolution of the downtown film scene from Warhol to Weinstein.