A rise to superstardom in media-obsessed times

Published November 1, 2000

Thomas Gibson stars with Jessica Pare in Denys Arcand’s Stardom.

WHEN DENYS Arcand introduced his film Stardom to the audience at the Vancouver International Film Festival, he described it as a light subject with very serious overtones. It is a comedy, but a dark and ribald one. Newcomer Jessica Pare stars as Tina Menzhal, a hockey player from Cornwall, Ont., who is discovered and begins her ascent towards stardom as an international supermodel.

Among the men who seek to take her under their wings and into their beds are the photographer who discovered her (Charles Berling), a restaurateur (Dan Aykroyd) and the Canadian ambassador to the United Nations (Frank Langella). Tina’s business affairs are managed deftly by an agent (Thomas Gibson) and her rise to fame is chronicled by an avant-garde photographer (Robert Lepage). It’s a story that’s been told before – young pretty girl becomes international superstar – but Arcand tells it in a most interesting way.

Arcand chooses to tell the story of Tina Menzhal through television. In this media-obsessed age, if something important is happening, it’s on television. While reality TV shows like Survivor and Big Brother try to create real life in real time on TV and recent films like The Truman Show and Ed TV seek to expose the complex relationship between “life” and “TV”, Stardom chooses another way.

From beginning to end, Arcand skips from cut to cut, from cable TV shows to “infotainment” specials to news clips. It’s as if you’re sitting at home with TV channel changer in hand, surfing through the story of Tina’s rise to stardom. You see her at the hockey rink, in the cable TV studio, on the entertainment portion of the nightly newscast, on the set of the talk show. She’s always looking beautiful, but has little to say.

The life of an international supermodel is all about appearances, in two dimensions. She smiles for the cameras, but cries herself to sleep. Everyone wants to know her, to touch her, but until the end of the film she is unable to find someone with whom she can truly be herself.

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Directed by Denys Arcand

Starring Jessica Pare, Thomas Gibson and Dan Aykroyd

*** (out of five)

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Stardom lets us look at this world of appearances, laugh at the inane chat that we endure from our TVs and asks us to think about why we are so drawn to beauty and to fashion.

One of the most delightful parts of this film is the way Arcand captures Canada, particularly eastern Ontario. The cable TV interviews are hilarious parodies of community-based television. Particularly memorable is an interview with two members of the local Lions Club – they can answer only in one-word responses, leaving the whole interview up to the host. We are a people of a few words.

Jessica Pare is amazing as Tina. When you see the depth of her anger towards her absent father, or hear her rationalizations for her intimate relationships, you understand Tina as a wounded person, seeking the love and acceptance that she never had.

All the supporting actors are first rate, especially Dan Aykroyd as the entrepreneur with the mid-life crisis. But it’s Arcand who’s the star of this film, seamlessly weaving a pastiche of images and ideas, holding popular culture up to the mirror, exposing its superficiality, and revealing the pain and emptiness behind the people who achieve stardom, and the culture that creates it.

Peter Elliott is dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, and a member of the board of directors of the Vancouver Film Festival.


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