A mockumentary that ‘plays both sides against the middle’

Being Michael Madsen

on February 15, 2008 by Sara Schieron

This may be the world’s biggest Hollywood in-joke, just by virtue of the fact the snake can’t stop eating its own tail. Being Michael Madsen so seamlessly mimics the “Behind the Star” variety of bio-doc that a crowd that might not be in on the gag could conceivably mistake it for a straight-faced example of the genre it sends up. Credits should be offered to Madsen for being such a good sport and to Mongilla and Sherkow for so tirelessly managing their premise. But then, as the film explains, it’s all about celebrity, so maybe press is the best credit we can offer.

A mockumentary about the making of a fake revenge documentary gone awry, Being Michael Madsen is predicated on a tabloid lie. Billy Dant, the fading it-boy of a high-profile tabloid implicates Michael Madsen in a Fatty Arbuckle-style scandal with Madsen playing Fatty and budding starlet Vanessa Rapaport (Lacey Chabert) in the role of Virginia Rappe. Though no body was found and hints fly about Dant assisting Rapaport’s getaway, Madsen is instantly outraged by the defamation and hosts a press conference to proclaim his innocence. When the press conference proves more hazardous than helpful, Madsen hires a recently celebrated documentary crew to produce the aforementioned revenge documentary and expose the dirty side of Dant. But as the crew plays paparazzi, lowers their integrity and pulls hair over helping “Mr. Madsen,” they increasingly influence the events in the life of Dant. Through this they earn their own celebrity status, which Madsen explains in the epilogue (shot at Slamdance just prior to the film’s premiere there) means that everyone got famous—and that’s the best outcome they could hope for.

Featuring talking-head-style interviews with an admiring David Carradine, an often-incoherent Harry Dean Stanton and a jealous Virginia Madsen (tired of being second banana in the Madsen home), the film really rides the line between truth and fiction and ultimately casts a shadow all over the genre and by association, the industry.

Mongilla and Sherkow have put their fingers on a formula. With traditional in-jokes long stale and glossy exposes only demonstrating pretensions, this attractive if TV-inspired mockumentary plays both sides on the middle—to use their words. Including the occasional academic insight, the creative team really proves it’s explored all its avenues, even taking a final clairvoyant stab at distribution, which, as of its screening at San Francisco’s IndieFest, is still unsecured. Give it time. There’s a lot here to like.

Distributor: TBD
Cast: Michael Madsen, Virginia Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Harry Dean Stanton and David Carradine
Director: Michael Mongillo
Screenwriters: James Charbeonneau and Michael Mongillo
Producers: Daniel Sherkow and Michael Mongillo
Genre: Mockumentary
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 88 min.
Release date: TBD

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