“Everybody’s a hooker. Some more, some less. Including me,” says has-been actor Randy Brent to his new wife, an actual hooker (that’s how they met!) named Elena. Randy was describing the denizens of Hollywood and while his brutal honesty about showbiz was an admirable attempt to put Elena at ease about her own sleazy past, you know what didn’t put her at ease so much? Catching Randy with another man in their bedroom after Randy goes into a funk about his latest flop movie! While Elena said she expected that he might take to drugs and liquor following yet another failure, she didn’t expect that! Guess what else she didn’t expect? Randy’s suicide attempt! (That he failed at that as well was probably anticipated though.)
The Users clearly wants to be a trashy look at the shallow lives of those involved in the motion picture industry, but for most of the film so much time is spent detailing Elena’s education on how to navigate the various players to get what she wants, it felt more like a new employee orientation for an aspiring Hollywood power broker more than anything else.
Whether it’s how to get invited to the right parties, hanging out in an agent’s Jacuzzi trying to get Randy a part in a hot new movie or finding out that the author has cast approval, Elena simply soaks it all in, grimly determined to follow the next step on her road to success. (Next stop – the writer’s bungalow to bet her body against the part for Randy in a contest to see who could drink the other under the table. She wins. Hollywood may be full of degenerate freaks, but an Arizona hooker is in a totally different category!)
The movie though is all talk, surprisingly subdued for what it apparently aimed for. You aren’t going to find any crazy melodramatic moments, screaming matches, or horrible tragedies that great soap opera films about the same subject matter such as The Carpetbaggers revel in. Elena discovering Randy’s secret life is treated in a very mature fashion with her being quietly disappointed, hurt and eventually leaving him. (She returns the next morning where she resumes helping him get the part that will return him to A-list status. Come on Elena! I didn’t sign up to watch a movie about pragmatic grown ups!)
Randy is shooting his latest turkey in Arizona and is having trouble completing the final love scene of the film. He hasn’t been worth a crap since his wife committed suicide, but he really needs a hit. Producer Adam Baker (George Hamilton sporting some the greatest hair of all time) hires Elena to snap him out of it and she does! She and Randy hit it off, he takes her back to L.A. and they get married.
Elena’s motives seem to shift as the story progresses. At first, she loves Randy and will do anything to help his career. After she discovers he treats his depression with gay sex, she alters course, becoming involved with financier Reade Jamieson, using her obsession to get Randy back on top as her ticket further up the ladder of success. That she didn’t seem to miss a beat in all this makes it hard to root for her.
What really makes it hard to sympathize with her though is that she doesn’t have to overcome very much. There is no villain in the movie trying to stop her. She hardly encounters anyone who doesn’t treat her with admiration for how much of a climber she is. It’s like the movie thinks it’s shining a bright light on how awful people in Hollywood are, but doesn’t have the self-awareness to realize it instead is celebrating it. Elena’s unstoppable thirst to become just like the rest of them is something to be cheered on, the film all but openly says.
It’s all very oddly bland despite the trappings of trashiness (the swelling soap opera music, the cast full of familiar faces anxious to chew their scenes such as Jacyln Smith, Tony Curtis, Hamilton, Michelle Phillips, Joan Fontaine, Darren McGavin, Red Buttons and John Forsythe, the affair between Randy’s daughter and his producer, Elena’s willingness to use sex to achieve her ends), but maybe because this was a made for TV movie, it couldn’t really get that nasty.
Even the ending of the film is strangely anti-climatic and devoid of any drama, taking place at the Oscars where Randy and his daughter are nominated for the film that Elena’s new husband Raede produced. As you might expect from this movie, when they all run into each other on the red carpet prior to the awards ceremony, everyone is affably polite to one another. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the characters in a Hollywood melodrama behaving better than I would in the same situation.
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