When you look at photographs of Edie Sedgwick, the skinny, raccoon-eyed blue-blood glam waif who, in 1965, became Andy Warhol’s defining superstar, you can see why she riveted the attention of everyone from the hipster divas at Vogue to the cosmically blasé Warhol himself. There was joy in her smile, in the way she flexed her legs like a baby-doll gymnast dominatrix in black tights. Yet with her hair as short as a boy’s, her earrings worn like mod appendages, and her bedazzled eyes rimmed with mascara, she embodied a new cool, even cruel, attitude: the awareness of herself as an image, and the lack of regard for anything else. Warhol must have grasped that she resembled one of his Marilyn portraits — Marilyn Monroe reborn as a knowing, anything-goes punk princess.
In Factory Girl, Sienna Miller, with her glossed and dimpled party-girl smile, looks so much like the actual Edie Sedgwick that you may think, at moments, that you’re seeing the real thing. That spooky look-alike allure does a lot for the movie: It gets you to pack away your disbelief, to place it right up on the medicine-cabinet shelf.
At a party, Sedgwick and Warhol, played with slithery zombie anti-charm by Guy Pearce, spy each other, and for these two narcissists it’s love at first mutually reflective sight. Pearce makes Warhol, accurately, into a shrinking-violet creep genius, a poison-tongued media ghost who skulks through parties and galleries hidden under a white wig and sunglasses, not to mention the cuttingly indifferent, it’s-all-great/it’s-all-a-big-joke attitude that’s really another part of his costume. By the time Warhol meets Edie, he has already turned the Factory, his silver-walled studio, into a crash pad for flamboyant druggies and fame whores — people who, like Warhol, manufactured their identities, reducing life to a series of decadent surfaces. Factory Girl gets those surfaces mostly right. The director, George Hickenlooper, who has a background in documentaries, evokes the Factory’s amphetamine-fueled aristocratic lethargy — the beautiful people sitting around and competing for Andy’s attention — as well as the communion between Sedgwick and Warhol, who grooms her to be a star of his underground films, in which sitting around became an ”art form.”
As an image, a presence, Edie Sedgwick had a spectacular vibe, yet when she sat like a kitten in such ramblingly morose Warhol freak shows as Vinyl or Poor Little Rich Girl — films that, seen now, have all the watchability of a random night of public-access TV — she receded into the scenery. Her mystique didn’t translate into personality. She was a model, no more and no less, not so much a girl who did things as a girl who things happened to. That’s tricky movie material. Miller nails Sedgwick’s captivating self-regard, and she has a vivid fragility when Edie gets lost on drugs, yet we never feel an emotional link to her.
To lend the story some depth and shape, Factory Girl becomes a triangle in which Sedgwick, trapped in the spotlight she craved, finds herself caught between the arid, voyeuristic Warhol and an unnamed musician played by Hayden Christensen, who is obviously meant to be a certain curly-haired, messianic folk-rock icon. Did Sedgwick really have an affair with Bob Dylan, as this film implies? Considering that Dylan’s gloriously accusatory ”Like a Rolling Stone” is generally thought to have been inspired, at least in part, by Sedgwick (with Warhol referred to as ”Napoleon in rags”), it’s not a far-fetched scenario, and according to Victor Bockris’ superb Warhol biography, the two artists’ camps did trap her in a tug-of-war. Yet the Edie-Dylan scenes are too naively gushy, with Christensen mumbling an underbaked role.
The film scarcely knows what to do with all of these legends when it gets up close and personal. I wish, for instance, that instead of just having Sedgwick and Warhol stroll through Central Park, Hickenlooper had imagined their conversation. Factory Girl has been made with so much frenzied, quick-cut ”style” that, unlike Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol, it never settles into a vision of the Warhol world as a spooky, damaged human place. The most potent part of the movie comes when Warhol, fed up with Sedgwick’s drug habit, freezes her out, and we see how he used his passivity as a form of sadism. When she throws a tantrum in a restaurant, Warhol remains scarily detached — and, in his castigation of Edie, chillingly accurate about the wages of fame. As Factory Girl more than acknowledges, Edie Sedgwick’s downward spiral was ultimately her own doing. Yet even as the film captures the silk-screen outline of her rise and fall, it never quite colors in who she was.