Some have a steel heart, a steel stomach, and a steel heat for the Hollywood parts of Los Angeles, where one is never sure if dreams or nightmares are being created. Sometimes both.
It’s a struggle, as seen on the faces of those sitting at outdoor patios at various restaurants, or driving along while on their cell phone or just sitting in their apartment, wondering, waiting, despairing, hoping, and sometimes all at once. Liz Swedin (writer/director Maria Tornberg) is one of those people, having woken up to her thirtieth birthday, which is good, because she’s still alive for another day, another week, another year, but also bad for her, as shown by the smug agent (Deborah Quayle) whom Liz meets in the hopes of getting representation that will find her a job. The agent’s not sure about her because she tries to dodge the question of how old she is, and she barely slips away from revealing that she’s 30, settling for 29. Agents, directors, and producers can go past 30 in Hollywood, but actors can’t, because marketability is key. And her day goes on. This is her birthday, spent also with a casting director who clearly has no time for her, and reads back lines that aren’t even on the pages she was given before the audition. The question that Liz faces is whether she can handle anymore of this. Clearly she’s already deep enough into it to where it’s too late to even wonder whether this is really what she wants to do. She says it as such in her narration and her actions, her frustrations, her thoughts drifting off to her absent father, which must have been a nasty divorce with how flippantly Liz’s mother dismisses him while on the phone with Liz wishing her a happy birthday, learning that he he hasn’t called her yet.
Coming from Sweden, the home country of many thoughtful filmmakers, Maria Tornberg is just as patient as them. In each moment, even right up to the slightly confused ending where it takes a minute yourself to get your bearings and understand in which order Liz appears (there’s Liz-in-the-parking-garage-of-IKEA Liz, Liz-on-stage-dancing-furiously-for-her-father Liz, and Liz-lonely-and-lost-in-her-car-on-an-L.A.-night Liz), Tornberg finds such deep resonance in Liz. Obviously there are people like her in Los Angeles, struggling with the same life, but moreso than that, she hasn’t forgotten her history, unlike Sandra (Parker Shipp), who looks a little like Kate Winslet and has ironically been cast as Kate Winslet’s younger sister in a forthcoming film. Sandra is a sharp reminder of how easy it is to forget yourself and it’s even true in the valleys away from Los Angeles, especially in the Santa Clarita Valley, where a screening of “Factotum” given by the local film festival (as part of their package of monthly screenings) attracted an aspiring actress (is there any other kind?) who talked a little loudly about an audition she had just been on and she had a tone indicating that it was all forward motion for her now, with the past being the distant past.
Tornberg successfully implores us to think about who we are, what we are, and how much of our past shapes our present and will touch our future. She is an innate character writer who has undoubtedly been in Los Angeles long enough to see what’s around all the time, but isn’t thought of long enough to really be examined properly. She knows it.