Review: 'Pretty Bad Actress' Makes Familiar Points About Fame, Exploitation, And Trauma

Fame is a tricky, soul-sucking thing, and our obsession with celebrity is a well-documented component of pop culture. We want to know everything about someone famous, and we want them to fit our every desire and our every whim, and the line between being adoring and being toxic is a thin one. Those are all the points that first-time filmmaker Nick Fituri Scown is attempting to make in his debut "Pretty Bad Actress," and while the satire reiterates those elements over and over again, there isn't much about this film that adds anything unique or insightful to that analysis.

"Pretty Bad Actress" focuses on former child star Gloria Green (Heather McComb), who became phenomenally famous for playing Trudie Cutie, a "school-day nerd, after-school beauty," and has since experienced a well-known fall from grace: struggling with addiction, involved in the death of a colleague, posing for Playboy magazine, checking into treatment, spending time behind bars, and, most importantly, starring in bad movie after bad movie. Gloria's "downward spiral continues," proclaims various magazines and tabloids, and she's treated by almost everyone as a joke.

An exception, though, is devoted fan Dawnee (Stephanie Hodes), a high school student who is bullied constantly. Is she made fun of because of her obsession with Gloria, whom she ties into every school presentation? (Her teacher makes an uncomfortable face when she pitches a project about how the Holocaust and Gloria are the same, and his disgust is ours.) Or because she dresses like a child, with pigtails, a pleated skirt, and thick tights? Whatever the reasoning, she's a target in school classrooms and hallways, and her loneliness is palpable.

But things change drastically for both Gloria and Dawnee when they're kidnapped by a Trudie Cutie stalker (John Hensley) and tied up in the same basement. For Gloria, it's a terrifying experience; for Dawnee, it's the time of her life. And outside of that home, Gloria's assistant Cheryl (Jillian Bell) and manager Al (Danny Woodburn) are attempting to figure out where she is -- and how they can spin her disappearance for the best media coverage possible.

"Pretty Bad Actress" isn't the kind of movie interested in mystery, so you can pretty much guess where all of the film's threads are going in the first 20 minutes or so, meaning that the next hour of the movie doesn't really deviate much from your first expectations. But what really works is the subplot involving Bell and Woodburn, who try to use their Hollywood-insider knowledge to leverage Gloria's absence; are they really concerned about her, or do they just want to advance their own careers? "Is there any way to make it more sexy? Kinky?" a producer asks Al when he pitches a movie about her disappearance, and in a tense moment with Gloria, Cheryl keeps her phone on in case someone calls her with details about a deal. Those elements are tongue-in-cheek satirical, but they're more impactful than a burgeoning friendship between Gloria and Dawnee, or shots of the stalker putting on lipstick and recreating some of Trudie Cutie's '90s outfits. The movie never develops a true threat of danger from the stalker, so the tension needed to make those elements believable isn't really there.

It's not that "Pretty Bad Actress" doesn't make valid points about the cycle of celebrity, but that it doesn't add much uniqueness to this conversation. As a satire, it has moments of dark humor (like when Gloria demands certain things from the stalker, like slim tampons and a protein bar, and we see that his groceries list has the exact opposite items listed, or when another producer demands that a story about Gloria's disappearance include a male love interest), but for the most part, "Pretty Bad Actress" isn't as pointed or insightful as it could be.

"Pretty Bad Actress" is available on VOD. 

Rating: 2.5 out of 5