Friday, August 27, 2010

Teenage Paparazzo [film review]

Austin Visschedyk is just like any other 14-year-old except he chases celebrities for a living. He photographs them in his native Los Angeles and sells those images for hundreds, even thousands of dollars a shot. You know, Paris-Britney-Lindsay-Nicole, chasing them at three in the morning in dodgy parking lots behind all-night clubs. Adrian Grenier knows how that feels. He became a celeb by playing a celebrity on the hit TV series "Entourage" and decided to turn his own camera on Visschedyk and other paparazzi.

Left to right: Grenier, Visschedyk (center, kneeling), Paris Hilton

This is a very good movie. True, it's not the first documentary to focus on the paparazzi, but it stands out by switching roles with one paparazzo--one that can't legally drive nor enter a club. The two form an unlikely bond, and Grenier becomes a more unlikely shooter. Imagine a celebrity who chases other celebrities for money. Meanwhile, Grenier draws so much attention on Visschedyk that the boy becomes an overnight sensation who stars in his own reality show. The Prince and the Pauper switch is the strength of this movie, full of irony.

Grenier does his homework, however. He interviews Visschedyk's parents who indulge their boy in this profession, yet call him during his late-night stakeouts and worry like all parents do. Grenier also talks to a lot of celebs including Paris Hilton who comes off as sort of smart, yet still ditzy. Alec Baldwin (of 30 Rock) fondly recalls having the Empire State Building "shoved up my ass, one brick at a time" by hostile photogs. And he talks to shrinks who of course warn consumers of celebrity rags and TMZ about how alienated they are (i.e. don't have lives of their own).

In fact, Teenage Paparazzo avoids being fluff by delving deeper. One scene that stands out is where Grenier prods Visschedyk into becoming a serious photojournalist by showing him John Filo's famous photograph of the 1970 Kent State shooting. Whereas his mother will always remember that shocking image, Visschedyk remarks that it doesn't look real enough, because not everyone around the dead body is screaming. Grenier answers that Visschedyk is used to seeing over-dramatization in popular images.

Seeing this movie is like walking into a room full of mirrors with image reflecting image without revealing any truth. Teenage Paparazzo succeeds by smashing those mirrors.

Teenage Paparazzo is released today in theatres across Canada. Images courtesy of Mongrel Media.