What is pleasant and slight in a short film becomes tedious and insipid when stretched to feature length. Such is the fate of Ellie Parker, originally a 16-minute entry in the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. Writer-director Scott Coffey and star Naomi Watts were so enamored with their material (following a day in the life of an actress struggling from one wacky audition to the next) that they kept making more short-form adventures of Ellie, eventually culminating in a portrait of a self-involved, whiny, indulgent actor in “who am I, really?” crisis mode. In this case, less is more. From the bizarre rituals of acting class where one pretends to be an animal or a tree, to the therapist’s couch where this eager starlet gets in touch with her inner child, Ellie Parker is an unintentionally miserable forced march alongside the condescending, needy vibe that struggling actors can give off. While actors, particularly those based in Los Angeles, may connect to the inside jokes, and Watts makes for a fetching screen presence, Ellie Parker ultimately feels like a tiring whirlwind of familiar sitcom episodes strung together. As Ellie breaks up with her boyfriend, girl-talks with her actress buddy (Rebecca Rigg), and shares a Jim Bean confessional with her agent (Chevy Chase), the material drudges into that porridge of fatuous indie quirkiness that has given quirk a bad name.
Not horrible given the quality of the source material, but take a look at the carpet in Ellie's apartment in chapter four: it's like an acid trip, which means it's not fun to look at-unless your on acid. Sound is hit-or-miss, which is no surprise given that some sequences in the film are culled from Scott Coffey's original short, shot more than four years prior to the newer material.
The film is no fun but the extras are nifty. Coffey's commentary track is chock-full of cool anecdotes, none more interesting than the dubbing job Naomi Watts had to do over one car scene because they couldn't get the rights to all the music that was playing on the radio (except for a song from Parallel Lines, which an awesome Debbie Harry allowed them to use). Also good is behind-the-scenes footage of Parker's confrontation with her agent, which reveals a Mulholland Drive poster on a wall that I don't think I noticed the first time I saw the film. Rounding out the extras are 13 deleted/alternate scenes and trailers for the film and other Strand Releasing Home Video titles: Loggerheads, Mysterious Skin, Tony Takitani, and Cote d'Azur.
Given all the Lynch connections, think of the film as an appetizer of sorts before Inland Empire.