In the comedy-drama Ellie Parker, Naomi Watts imbibes controlled substances, uses the toilet on-camera, screams like a banshee at an acting class that resembles a cross between Reichian therapy and an EST encounter group, fucks her loser stoner boyfriend in the tub, roots around in a garbage bin, and vomits prodigiously. And if all that wasn't enough to let audiences know that they're truly in the valley of extreme, totally in-your-face independents, it's filmed on nauseous, headache-inducing digital video that makes the film look like it was shot entirely within the rectum of a syphilitic hobo.
One of international cinema's most prestigious actresses goes grunge in Ellie Parker, and her presence is the only thing separating this celluloid abomination from the hundreds of other amateurish, ineptly written, poorly shot DV nightmares that fail to win theatrical distribution every year. Expanded from a 2001 short and shot over a period of four years, the shapeless, meandering film follows Watts' desperate thespian wannabe as she lurches from audition to audition and deals poorly with cheating boyfriends, rabid competition, and crippling insecurities.
There's no real delineation between Watts' personal and professional life here. She's always performing, always making a scene, never remotely sure where the actor ends and her true self begins, or if she even has a true self left under all the pretending. Actor turned writer-director Scott Coffey mistakes this for a profound metaphor for the existential condition of modern man, rather than just a pointless way of layering one level of shrill artifice atop another. Just as Beyond The Sea inadvertently argued that its hero was a second-rate lounge singer onstage and off, Ellie Parker is about a woman who's an insufferable, self-absorbed, third-rate ham in her personal and professional life.
In his feature-length directorial debut, Coffey subscribes to a lazy, reductive indie geometry that holds that "ugly" equals "verisimilitude," "low-budget" equals "pure," and "aggressively unpleasant" equals "bracing existential truths." But clichés about Hollywood being shallow and warped, actors being desperate and loco, and the whole town being a boozy, druggy madhouse are clichés whether shot in 70 millimeter or on Granny's video camera. It almost seems that Watts made a movie this intentionally scuzzy and low-rent as a severe form of penance to the gods of authenticity for the sin of making millions jet-setting around the world appearing in big, glamorous super-productions. But she goes too far in making the audience suffer as well.