I think it was towards late 2003 when I got my first taste of “real Hollywood.” None of that Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight-fed crap. No coverage on TV of the latest red-carpet Hollywood premiere or the latest red carpet anything designed to benefit the stars who appear, preening and smiling for the hungry photographers and paparazzi who know that their children’s college fund depends on this. I’ve always imagined that there are one or two members of that elite guerrilla photography club doing it for that.
A friend was driving and the windows were open in his car as we approached Century City, location of the famed 20th Century Fox studios where the outside of one of the huge hangar-looking soundstages was given over to the Simpsons color palette, featuring many of the famous characters. It was a bit muggy that night, but the unmistakable scent was there that I had imagined would be there: Desperation. Screenwriters and actors alike hankering for all that they hoped would make them famous. I spotted a double-floor Borders and imagined that many patrons there wondered when their next audition would be, wondered if any of their scripts would be accepted. We passed a few restaurants and why wouldn’t aspiring actors be waiters at any of these places, valets rushing off to drive a customer’s car right to him or her? It was naiveté back then, having only arrived about two or three months prior, or at least naiveté to my mind, not getting the full picture of what the industry was like, but now it feels real enough. As you can see, that night comes back occasionally, more out of amazement at how people thrive on those hopes, people like Steve Williams (Craig Young) in Richard Keith’s mockumentary about what it takes for the washed-up to try to find fame on other shores.
20-something Steve was once a member of a popular British boy band, or at least one on the way to popularity having only achieved two top-ten hits, and at the time of the accident, on a tour in the United States, obviously orchestrated by many hands—agents, publicists, touring companies, etc.—who know where the money is. The accident was their tour bus in a nasty flip-over, which killed all the members except Steve whose exposure due to this accident has faded out and he’s now in the United States, wanting to act, wanting a role that can bring him that same fame, or at least something close to it because every actor or wannabe actor wants to be comfortable enough in their careers to be choosy about their roles. Williams is hardly at that level yet, as documentary filmmaker (in the film) Kate Hastings (Susan Duerden) observes with her close-up observations. He lives in a small apartment with a roommate, Molly Epstein (Anna Becker), and his first audition, for a coffee commercial, becomes an audition in front of the casting director’s office security guard after he arrives too late. 4:30 p.m., not 5:00 p.m.
Craig Young, who also co-wrote “Wannabe”, handles this so deftly. Steve can’t look like a dumbass, lest it actually turns into a straightforward comedy, which is never the intention. He’s desperate for fame again, he wants to find a way to get into those rareified, well-publicized annals of Hollywood that seem to have cash printing presses underground. “Wannabe” even goes so far to show the flakes residing in Hollywood, such as an indie filmmaker, Gunner Dillyn (Tate Taylor), who entices Steve back into making another film with him, “Heir of the Dog 2: The Bitch is Back”, a sequel to a story (a generous assessment of what it actually is) about a dog who’s set to assume the throne of a powerful foreign country. Why? Jerry Bruckheimer’s producing it. It’s going to be a 35mm production with an Arriflex camera. And since the name Bruckheimer means a lot in Hollywood, he’s all for it until he gets there and finds that’s not only not the case, but Gunner takes all the time he wants in getting acquainted with his beloved cocaine supply and the actress playing the nurse.
On top of this, he meets another former “boy bander”, Paul Stannard (Adam Huss), who’s come to the United States for the same reasons and after talk of a Best Dancer award that Stannard claims was awarded to him at the height of their fame there, but which Steve claims he has the actual award in storage back home, things become tense between the two and it comes to a most hilarious end, joined by clueless executives who want excitement on television by way of “The New Monkees”, but clearly have not experienced any excitement beyond the sweet satisfaction that must come with starting up a Jaguar and going home to their big houses on the hills. It’s a delicious satire of all that makes the industry tick, all the quirks that ride on through, and all the people who you can’t believe actually exist, but no doubt they do. This is rich, perceptive humor, which shows the benefit of having the Hollywood of today always open and operating. Because of that, we get films like “Wannabe.”